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Entered,  according  to  Act  of  Congress,  in  the  year  1867,  by 

In  the  Clerk**  Office  of  the  District  Court  of  the  District  of  Columbia. 


ALTHOUGH  Walt  Whitman,  as  Poet  and  Person,  remains 
yet  comparativ  :ly  an  unknown,  unregarded  figure  upon  tiie 
vast  and  crowded  canvas  of  our  age,  I  feel — tor  reasons 
attempted  to  be  set  forth  in  the  following  pages — that  I 
am  in  some  sort  called  upon  to  jot  down,  while  they  are 

vivid  upon  me,  my  observations  of  him  and  his  writings. 
..   *• 

And  I  wish  to  give,  without  delay,  a  fair  hint  of  the  attitude 

my  Notes  hold  toward  their  subject,  and  of  the  premises 
they  assume  and  start  from. 

In  History,  at  wide  intervals,  in  different  fields  of  action, 

there  come  (it  is  a  thrice-told  tale,)  special  developments 

of  individualities,  and  of  that  something  we  suggest  by  the 

word  Genius — individuals  whom  their  own  days  little  sus- 

V      pect,  and  never  realize,  but  who,  it  turns  out,  mark  and 


make  new  eras,  plant  the  standard  again  ahead,  and  in  one 

man  personify  vast  races  or  sweeping  revolutions.     I  con- 

^        sider  Walt  Whitman  such  an  individual.     I  consider  that 

x '        America  is  illustrated  in  him ;  and  that  Democracy,  as  now 


launched  forth  upon  its  many-vortexed  experiment  for 
good  or  evil,  (and  the  end  whereof  no  eye  can  foresee,)  is 
embodied,  and  for  the  first  time  in  Poetry  grandly  and  fully 
uttered,  in  him. 

My  Notes  come  from  personal  contact,  and  doubtless 
from  thoughts  brought  under  that  influence.  The  literary 
hints  in  them  are  experimental,  and  will  show  the  student 
of  Nature  more  than  the  student  of  books. 

I  confess  I  shelter  much  that  I  have  written,  within  the 
conviction  that  almost  any  statement,  touched  from  life,  of 
a  man  already  the  subject  of  peculiar  interest  to  choice 
circles  both  in  this  country  and  -in  Europe,  and  destined  to 
a  general  renown  unlike  any  other — the  renown  of  personal 
endearment — will  prove  welcome. 

And  so  I  give  them  forth— crude  and  ill-put  as  doubt- 
less  they  will  appear  to  the  better  judges — yet  hoping  that 
they  too  may  serve. 

Nott  ti  Second  Edition. — The  following  essay,  as  far  at   page    1 08,  / 
having   been   issued  in   1867,  was   based   of  course  on  the  editions  of  j 
LEAVES  or  GRASS  anterior  to  that  time,  of  1855,  '57,  '60,  and  especially 
of  1866-7.     The  last-named  and  fourth,  though  mentioned  on  page  22 
following  as  "  the  completed   edition,"  has   now  been  supvrceded  by  a 
later  and  fuller  one,  the  fifth,  (see  page   109  following})  the  "  excep 
tion  "  mentioned  on  page  22,  and  the  "  part  still  lacking,"  alluded  toon 
page  71  of  the  present  work,  having  necessitated,  as  appears,  not  only  an 
important  addition  of  new  LEAVES,  but  a  re-arrangement  of  the  old  ones. 

The  whole  Volume  being,  in  some  respects,  best  understood  when 
viewed  as  a  series  of  growths,  or  strata,  rising  or  starting  out  from  a  set 
tled  foundation  or  centre,  and  expanding  in  successive  accumulations,  I 
have  thought  it  allowable  to  let  my  Notes,  even  pages  22  and  23,  remain 
as  they  were  originally  jotted  down,  notwithstanding  that  1  might  alter 
certain  passages  if  written  over  again  now,  and  that  a  few  lines  are 
rendered  superfluous ;  but  as  they  stand  they  in  some  sort  represent  the 
changes  and  stages  alluded  to,  especially  those  signified  by  the  edition  of 
1866-7.  The  Supplementary  Notes  commencing  page  109  present  what 
I  have  to  say  of  the  book  of  1871-2. 

It  will  be  borne  in  mind  that  the  present  Notes  were  not  designed 
merely  for  literary  criticism  of  Walt  Whitman's  poems.  While  these 
poems  certainly  present  difficult  problems,  and  need  study  and  time  to 
their  appreciation,  I  believe  that  from  what  has  already  been  written 
concerning  them,  the  determined  investigator,  amid  many  contradictor)* 
speculations  and  reviews,  will  be  able  to  glean  the  materials  of  the 
truth.  [See  LEAVES  or  GRASS  IMPRINTS,  64  pages,  16  mo.  Boston, 
Thayer  &  Eldridge,  1860;  THE  GOOD  GRAY  POET,  A  Vindication,  by 
W.  D.  O'Connor,  "46  pages,  8vo.  New  York,  Bunce  &  Huntington  j 
A  ffoman's  Estimate  of  Walt  Jfkitman,  THE  RADICAL,  May,  1870,  / 
Boston.]  But  I  desire,  also,  to  put  on  record,  out  of  my  own  observation?, 
continued  since  the  opening  of  the  war  down  to  the  present  hour,  and 
from  the  point  of  view  of  those  who  have  known  him  best  from  child 
hood,  and  especially  during  these  current  years,  an  outline  of  the  veritable 
form,  manners,  and  doings  of  the  man,  and  of  his  life,  as  he  actually 
lives  it  to-day.  There  will  come  a  time  when  these  things  will  be  in 
valuable.  .  J.  B.,  June,  1871. 

Jggy  The  leader  of  the  LEAVES,  in  their  permanent  form  of  1871-2, 
will  take  notice  that  several  of  the  pieces  criticized  in  the  present  Notes, 
from  pages  aa  to  64,  and  91  to  105,  are  not  now  to  be  found  in  the 
localities  or  connections  specified,  but  in  others.  The  names  of  two  or 
three  pieces  are  also  changed. 




FIMT  ACQUAINTANCE  wnrn  POEM  AND  POET  .............     9 

THE  EARLIER  ISSUE*  OR  EDITION!  ........  ...  .................   15 

REVIEW  or  THE  COMPLETED  POEM  .........................  ..  21 

STANDARD  or  THE  NATURAL  UNIVERSAL  ......................  37 

BEAUTY  ........................................  ,  ...................   50 

PERSONALITY,  ETC  ......................  .  .........................  57 

FURTHER  PRESENTATION*  AND  POINTS-  ....................  .  65 


PERSONAL    SKETCH  .............................................  77 

DRUM-TAPS  ......................  ....................................  97 



LEAVES       OF        GRASS. 

FORMERLY,  during  the  period  termed  elastic,  when  literature  was  gov 
erned  by  recognized  rules,  he  was  considered  the  best  poet  who  had  com 
posed  the  most  perfect  work,  the  most  beautiful  poem,  the  most  intelli 
gible,  the  most  agreeable  to  read,  the  most  complete  in  every  respect, — 
the  rEneid,  the  Gerusalemme,  a  fine  tragedy. 

To-day,  something  else  is  wanted.  For  us,  the  greatest  poet  is  he  who 
in  his  works  most  stimulates  the  reader's  imagination  and  reflection,  who 
excites  him  the  most  himself  to  poetize.  The  greatest  poet  is  not  he  who 
has  done  the  best ;  it  is  he  who  suggests  the  most ;  he,  not  all  of  whose 
meaning  is  at  first  obvious,  and  who  leaves  you  much  to  desire,  to  explain, 
to  study,  much  to  complete  in  your  turn. — [SAINTE-BEUVE.  Nouvtaux 
Lundli.  (New  Mondays.)  Article  on  "  The  Last  Five  Montkt  of  the 
Life  of  Racine."  Volume  X.  Parit  edition,  1868.] 




PIKIIAPS  I  can  open  my  subject  no  hotter  than  by 
telling  where  and  how  it  hej;an  with  me,  Horn  ami  raised 
near  the  head  water*  of  the  Delaware,  in  New  York,  the 
wortJ  of'  my  praciUal  experience  wan  confined  to  that 
I,  -.ili'hy  tuit  rather  will  ami  bleak  region,  till  1  had  become 
n  well-j'.rown  country  youth,  cuHou*  ubout  booki— fond 
even  then  of  the  Kmcrnonian  CH*ay*  and  poems  and 
u'l  of  that  ilk  {  bur  my  lite  mainly  occupied  In  farm  work 
in  the  .summer,  and  with  u  little  study,  oftset  by  much 
hunting  ttnd  trapping  wi!d  animals,  in  winter. 

From  «  child  I  was  familiar  with  the  homely  facts  of  the 
barn,  and  of  cattle  and  hor-e.< ;  the  au^ar-making  in  the 
maple  u  ood»  in  early  >prinj:  j  the  work  of  the  corn-field, 
hay-field,  potato-Held  ;  the  delicious  fall  months,  with  their 
pigeon  and  Mjuirrel  ihootitlgft|  tliroliin^  of  buckwhent, 
gathering  of  apples,  and  burning  of  fallows;  in  short,  every- 
thing  that  smacked  of,  and  led  to,  the  open  air  and  its  exhil 
arations.  I  belonged,  as  I  may  say,  to  them ;  and  my 
substance  and  taste,  as  they  grew,  assimilated  them  as  truly 
as  my  body  did  its  food.  I  loved  a  few  books  much  ;  but 


I  loved  Nature,  in  all  those  material  examples  and  subtle 
expressions,  with  a  love  passing  all  the  books  of  the  world. 
Appropriately  enough,  I  at  this  time,  1861,  first  made 
the  acquaintance  of  LEAVES  OF  GRASS,  in  the  woods.  Vis- 
iting  a  friend  in  the  eastern  part  of  the  Swte,  I  recall  that 
as  we  went  out  on  a  nutting  excursion  he  carried  with  him 
this  singular-looking  book,  from  which  he  read  to  me  as  we 
paused  in  our  tramp.  I  shall  never  forget  the  strange 
delight  I  had  from  the  following  passage,  as  we  sat  there 
on  the  sunlit  border  of  an  autumn  forest : 

"  I  He  abstracted,  and  hear  beautiful  tales  of  things,  and  the  reasons  of 

things ; 
They  are  so  beautiful,  I  nudge  myself  to  listen. 

I  cannot  say  to  any  person  what  I  hear — I  cannot  say  it  to  myself — it 
is  very  wonderful. 

It  is  no  imall  matter,  this  round  and  delicious  globe,  moving  to  exactly 
in  its  orbit  forever  and  ever,  without  one  jolt,  or  the  untruth 
of  a  tingle  second  j 

I  do  not  think  it  was  made  in  six  days,  nor  in  ten  thousand  yean,  nor 
ten  billions  of  years, 

Nor  plann'd  and  built  one  thing  after  another,  as  an  architect  plans  and 
builds  a  house." 

I  shortly  after  procured  the  volume-— the  Boston  edition 
of  1 860.  I  read  it  attentively,  and,  as  I  supposed  then, 
understood  it.  At  any  rate  I  understood  it  thus  far,  that, 
as  a  written  poem,  or  whatever  it  was,  it  produced  the 
impression  upon  me  in  my  moral  consciousness  that  actual ' 
Nature  did  in  her  material  forms  and  shows.  This  sort  of 
impression  no  book  had  ever  before  made  upon  me.  I  had 
enjoyed  the  good  of  other  books  greatly,  but  it  had  never 
occurred  to  me  to  recognize  them  as  in  any  way  equal  to  a 


fine  sunrise  morning,  or  a  solitary  and  dim  old  hemlock 
forest,  or  as  containing  qualities  at  all  akin  to  these. 

Of  course,  I  became  very  curious  about  Walt  Whitman 
himself,  but  found  little  satisfaction  in  the  magazine  and 
newspaper  notices  current  at  that  time,  and  more  or  less 
current  down  to  this  day.  According  to  those  veracious 
paragraphs,  the  man  was  a  mixture  of  the  belligerent,  the 
libidinous,  and  the  buffoon.  The  prevailing  authorities 
made  him  a  Broadway  stage-driver,  fearfully  and  wonder 
fully  dressed,  who  occasionally  dismounted  from  the  box 
and  spent  a  certain  time  in  cooking  up  strange  messes,  olla 
podridas,  of  the  English  language,  which  he  mixed  together 
and  printed. 

However,  I  found  articles  of  another  sort  about  Whitman 
in  the  old  Nfto  Tcrk  Saturday  Press 9  which  I  received  every 
week.  That  paper  spoke  warmly  and  persistently  in  his 
behalf.  But  the  slurs  and  abusive  tirades  of  the  press,  of 
all  grades,  largely  preponderated. 

As  to  the  book  itself,  I  continued  to  read  it,  taking  it 
with  me  Sundays  away  off  on  the  hills.  I  soon  began  to 
notice  that  it  held  perpetual  strata,  or  backgrounds,  of 
meanings,  and  pictorial  and  panoramic  effects.  1  thought  I 
understood  any  certain  piece,  at  a  certain  time ;  but  a  week 
or  two  afterward,  reading  it  again,  I  would  invariably  find 
new,  and  sometimes  far  wider  and  superior  meanings. 
This  process,  thus  began,  has  continued  now  for  more  than 
five  years.  Like  the  face  of  the  sky,  and  the  spread  of  the 
landscape,  LEAVES  OF  GRASS,  though  the  same,  has  the 
character  qf  always,  at  any  view,  presenting  different  com 
binations  from  any  previous  view. 

Some  of  the  effects  produced  in  and  upon  me  at  that 


period  are  interwoven  in  the  following  Notes ;  but  the  great 
charm  which  the  book  had  to  me,  as  a  young  man,  full  of 
inquiry,  full  of  emotion— full,  it  may  be,  of  doubt— desiring 
to  come  in  contact  with  people  and  with  truth — as  well  as 
the  moral  service  it  rendered  me — arc  beyond  statement. 
It  was  a  new  kind  of  help,  not  in  the  ordinary  way  of 
knowledge,  but  in  a  way  far  more  rare  and  precious.  It 
strengthened  my  faith,  and  very  curiously  wrought  upon  and 
contributed  to  my  tense  of  self,  my  personality. 

In  the  fall  of  1863  I  left  New  York,  and,  desirous  of 
being  nearer  the  war,  and  perhaps  taking  a  hand  in  it,  wan 
dered  southward  as  far  as  Washington.  I  did  not  become 
a  soldier,  however ;  circumstances  determined  otherwise, 
and  I  >cttle«.l  down  as  a  resident  of  the  national  capital,  and 
10  have  since  remained. 

Mr.  Whitman  was  at  Washington  in  1862  and  1863, 
engaged  in  the  army  hospitals.  I  easily  found  him  out,  as 
1  he  had  become  well  known  around  the  city,  and  soon  made 
his  acquaintance.  I  had  met  him  once  or  twice  without 
our  interviews  amounting  to  much,  as  I  found  Mm,  although 
cheerful  and  friendly,  not  at  all  inclined  to  talk  on  any  such 
subjects  as  poetry  or  metaphysics;  when  on  one  of  my 
Sunday  afternoon  rambles  in  the  wood*,  two  or  three  miles 
from  Washington,  I  plumply  encountered  him  traveling 
along  a  foot-path  between  the  trees,  with  a  well-stuffed 
haversack  slung  over  his  shoulder,  and  the  pockets  of  his 
overcoat  also  tilled.  He  was  on  his  way  to  some  army 
hospital  barracks  in  the  vicinity,  and,  with  his  permission, 
I  accompanied  him. 


In  an  ensuing  section  I  shall  give  a  sketch  of  his  hospital 
career.  Yet  a  written  sketch  is  a  poor,  weak  thing,  in  such 
a  matter.  The  actual  scene,  as  I  saw  it,  of  this  man  moving 
among  the  maimed,  the  pale,  the  low-spirited,  the  ncar-to- 
death,  wi;h  all  the  incidents  and  the  interchanges  between 
him  and  those  suffering  ones,  often  young  almost  to  child 
hood,  can  hardly  be  pictured  by  any  pen,  however 
expert.  His  magnetism  was  incredible  ar.d  exhaustlcss. 
It  is  no  figure  of  speech,  but  a  tact  deeper  than  speech. 
The  lustreless  eye  brightened  up  at  his  approach ;  his 
commonplace  words  invigorated ;  a  bracing  air  seemed  to 
fill  the  ward,  and  neutralize  the  bad  smells.  I  beheld,  in 
practical  force,  something  like  that  fervid  incantation  of  one 
of  his  own  poems  : 

"To  any  one  dying — thither  I  spcc.1,  and  twist  the  knob  of  the  door; 
Turn  the  bed-clothes  toward  the  toot  of  the  bed  j 
Let  the  phytKun  and  the  priest  go  home. 

I  fccuc  the  descending  nun,  and  raiic  him  with  rcsijtlcs?  will. 

0  de-paircr,  here  is  my  neck; 

Dy  God  !  You  shall  not  go  down  !  Hang  your  whole  weight  upon  me. 

1  dilate  you  with  tremendous  breath — I  buoy  you  upj 
Every  room  of  the  houie  do  I  till  with  an  arm'd  force, 
Lovers  of  me,  bailkrs  of  graves." 

Dating  from  this  encounter,  I  had  afterward  opportunities 
of  seeing  Whitman  'a  good  deal,  and  of  knowing  much 
about  him,  both  in  the  general  and  in  the  minute.  His 
book  and  himself  now  fused  in  my  mind,  and,  as  it  were, 
remained  one.  Each  aided  my  understanding  of  the  other; 
much  light  was  cast  upon  the  book  by  his  character,  con 
versation,  and  ways,  and  from  the  new  and  mysterious 


bodily  quality  of  him,  which  it  is  impossible  to  describe, 
but  which  none  who  come  into  his  presence  can  escape, 
and  which  is,  perhaps,  the  analogue  to  the  intuitive  quility 
of  his  intellect. 

Of  my  attempt,  in  the  latter  part  of  these  Notes,  to  give 
an  outline  of  the  poet's  personal  history,  I  will  say  here, 
that,  man  as  he  is,  with  just  the  same  points  and  qualities 
as  the  rest  of  us — when  that  is  distinctly  admitted — the 
deepest  meaning  of  Thoreau's  verdict,  "After  all,  he  sug 
gests  something  a  little  more  than  human,"  comes  to  my 
apprehension  as  the  final  key  and  result.  It  probably  un 
derlies  my  biographic  sketch  of  his  life. 

As  will  be  seen,  I  have  extracted  largely  from  his  writings, 
jmd  have  sought  mostly  to  explain  him  from  his  own  letter 
and  spirit. 


OF     G 



IN  the  summer  of  1855  a  thin  quarto  volume  of  a  hun 
dred  pages,  poorly  printed,  and  inscribed  in  great  letters  on 
the  title-page,  LEAVES  OF  GRASS,  appeared  from  the  press 
of  a  small  job-office  in  the  city  of  Brooklyn,  New  York. 

It  had  no  author's  name,  but  there  was  a  frontispiece,  a 
choice  and  artistic  steel  engraving,  portraying  a  man  some 
where  from  thirty  to  thirty-five  years  of  age,  quite  neglige, 
no  coat  or  vest,  shirt  open  at  the  neck,  one  hand  in  his 
trowscrs  pocket,  and  the  other  resting  on  his  hip ;  face 
bearded,  and  a  felt  hat  pushed  back  slightly  from  the  fore 
head  ;  a  mild  yet  firm  enough  pair  or  eyes,  and  a  general 
expression,  not  only  about  the  countenance,  but  equally  in 
the  whole  figure,  that  held  you  looking  long  at  the  picture, 
under  a  feeling  you  rould  hardly  account  for. 

This  new  arrival  in  literature,  which,  at  a  casual  exam 
ination,  puzzled  all  known  classifications  of  prose  or  poetry, 
had  no  publisher,  and  was  born  very  noiselessly  and  lazily. 
Some  three-score  copies  were  deposited  for  sale  in  a  book 
store  in  Brooklyn,  and  as  many  more  in  another  store  in 
New  York.  Weeks  elapsed,  and  not  a  copy  was  sold. 


Presently  there  came  requests  from  lx>th  the  bookstores  that 
the  thin  quarto  should  be  forthwith  removed. 

The  copies  found  refuge  in  a  well-known  phrenological 
publishing  establishment  on  Broaiway,  whose  proprietors 
advertised  it,  and  sent  specimen  copies  to  the  journals,  and 
to  some  distinguished  persons.  The  journals  remained 
silent,  and  of  the  copies  sent  to  the  distinguished  persons 
several  were  tcturncd  with  insulting  notes.  The  only  re- 
ception  heard  of,  was  such,  for  instance,  as  the  use  of  the 
volume  by  the  attaches  of  a  leading  daily  paper  in  New 
York — collected  in  a  swarm  Saturday  afternoon,  waiting  to 
be  paid  off — as  a  butt  and  burlesque,  whose  perusal  aloud  by 
one  of  the  party,  the  others  lounging  or  standing  around, 
was  equivalent  to  peals  upon  peals  of  ironical  laughter  from 
the  whole  assemblage. 

A  small  but  important  occurrence  seems  now  to  have 
turned  the  tide.  A  letter  from  Ralph  Waldo  Emerson, 
brief,  but  containing  a  magnificent  culogium  of  the  book, 
suddenly  appeared.  A  demand  arose,  and  before  many 
months  all  the  copies  of  the  thin  quarto  were  sold. 

[I  take  occasion  to  say  that  Whitman,  up  to  the  time 

I  he  published  the  quarto  edition  here  mentioned,  had  never 
read  the  Essays  or  Poems  of  Mr.  Emerson  at  all.  This  is 
positively  true.  In  the  summer  following  that  publication, 
he  first  became  acquainted  with  the  Essays,  in  this  wise : 
He  was  frequently  in  the  habit  of  going  down  to  the  sea 
shore  at  Coney  Island,  and  spending  the  day  bathing  in  the 
surf  and  rambling  along  the  shore,  or  lounging  on  the  sand  ; 
and  on  one  of  these  excursions  he  put  a  volume  of  Emerson 
into  the  little  basket  containing  his  dinner  and  his  towel. 


There,  for  the  first,  he  read  "  Nature,"  &c.  Soon,  on 
similar  excursions,  the  two  oilier  volumes  followed.  Two 
years  still  elapsed,  however,  and  after  his  second  edition 
was  issued,  before  he  read  Mr.  E.'s  poems.] 


We  must  examine  this  first  incarnation  of  LEAVES  OP 
GRASS  a  little  further  before  dismissing  it.  It  had  one  fea 
ture  that  has  been  omitted  from  all  subsequent  editions, 
namely,  a  long  prefatory  essay  or  dissertation  in  prose  form. 
A  portion  of  this  essay,  or  whatever  it  may  be  called,  the 
author  has  since  incorporated  into  his  subsequent  poems. 
The  original,  in  prose,  was  devoted  chiefly  to  a  considera 
tion  of  the  august  character  and  mission  of  the  poet,  more 
especially  of  the  poet  fit  for  democratic  America. 

He  says  the  American  bard  is  to  be  commensurate  with 
the  people,  and  his  expression  transcendent  and  nsw : 

«*  It  is  to  be  indirect,  and  not  direct,  or  descriptive,  or  epic.  Its  quality 
goes  through  these  to  much  more.  Let  the  age  and  wars  of  other  nations 
be  chanted,  and  their  eras  and  characters  be  illustrated,  and  that  finish 
the  verse.  Not  so  the  great  j^alra  of  the  Republic.  Here  the  theme  u 
creative,  and  has  vista." 

The  service  the  great  bard  renders  to  mankind  is  anal- 
agous  to  the  service  the  eyesight  renders  the  other  senses ; 
and,  following  out  the  figure,  he  shows  how  the  eyesight  is 
above  proof  or  explanation,  as  the  poet  is : 

"The  other  senses  corroborate  themselves,  but  this  is  removed  from 
any  proof  but  its  own,  and  foreruns  the  identities  of  the  spiritual  world. 
A  single  glance  of  it  mocks  all  the  investigations  of  man,  and  all  the 
instruments  and  books  of  the  earth,  and  all  reasoning.  What  is  marvel 
ous?  What  U  unlikely?  What  is  impossible,  or  baseless,  or  vague? 


after  you  have  once  jtut  opened  the  space  of  a  peach-pit^  and  given  audi 
ence  to  far  and  near,  and  to  the  «unser,  ind  had  all  things  enter  with 
electric  swiftness,  tofily  and  duly,  without  confusion  or  jostling  or  jam." 

**The  poetic  quality  is  not  marshalled  in  thyme,  or  uniformity,  or 
abstract  addresses  to  things,  nor  in  melancholy  complaints  or  good  precepts, 
but  is  the  life  of  these  and  much  else,  and  is  in  the  soul.  .  .  -  The 
rhythm  and  uniformity  of  perfect  poems  show  the  full  growth  of  the 
metrical  laws,  and  bud  from  them  as  unerringly  and  loosely  as  lilacs  or 
roses  on  a  bush,  and  take  shape  as  compact  as  the  shapes  of  chestnuts  and 
oranges  and  melons  and  pears,  and  shed  the  perfume  impalpable  to  furm.** 

"The  art  of  art,  the  glory  of  expression,  and  the  sunshine  of  the  light 
of  letters,  is  simplicity.  Nothing  is  Letter  than  simplicity — nothing  can 
make  up  for  excess,  or  for  the  lack  of  dcfinitcncss."  .  u  To 

speak  in  literature  with  the  perfect  rectitude  and  insouciance  of  the  move 
ments  of  animals,  and  the  unimpeachablencss  of  the  senu.icnt  of  trees  in 
the  woods  and  grass  by  the  roadside,  is  the  flawless  triumph  of  art." 

The  following  gives  his  idea  of  style  : 

"The  greatest  poet  has  lest  a  marked  style,  and  is  more  the  channel  of 
thoughts  and  things  without  increase  or  diminution,  and  is  the  free  dunncl 
of  himself.  He  swears  to  his  art,  I  will  not  be  meddleoome,  1  will  not 
have  in  my  writing  any  elegance  or  effect  or  originality  to  hang  in  the  w.iy 
between  me  and  the  rest,  like  curtains.  I  will  have  nothing  hang  in  my 
way,  not  the  richest  curtains.  What  I  tell  I  tell  for  precisely  what  it  is. 
Let  who  may  exalt  or  startle,  or  fascinate  or  soothe,  1  will  have  purposes 
as  health  or  heat  or  snow  has,  and  be  as  regardless  of  observation.  What 
I  experience  or  portray  shall  go  from  my  composition  without  a  shred  of 
my  composition." 

The  body  of  this  edition  contained  twelve  poems,  (if  we 
must  begin  to  call  them  so,)  the  leading  one,  since  entitled 
Walt  Whitman,  the  one  To  Working-Men,  the  pieces  called 
To  Get  Betimes  in  Boston  Town,  Burial,  Sleep-  Closings,  &c. ; 
but  they  had  no  names  then  attached  to  them.  About  a 


thousand  copies  were  printed,  which  were  sold  in  less  than 
a  year.  As  it  was  not  stereotyped,  this  ended  the  thin 
quarto,  or  iir^t  issue. 

At  the  present  day,  a  curious  person  poring  over  the 
second-hand  book-stalls  in  side  places  of  northern  cities, 
may  'ight  upon  a  copy  of  this  quarto,  for  which  the  stall- 
keeper  will  ask  him,  at  least,  treble  its  first  price. 


Either  in  1856  or  early  in  1857,  LEAVFS  OF  GRA:-?,  con 
siderably  added  to,  again  appeared  in  the  form  of  a  handy 
1 6m.)  of  350  pages,  published  in  New  York.  The  most 
notable  addition  to  this  issue  was  the  piece  beginning  A 
H'uman  wdits  for  'Me.  A  storm  had  been  muttering  before, 
but  at  the  publication  of  this  piece  it  burst  forth  in  fullest 
fury.  Every  epithet  of  rancor  and  opprobrium  was  show 
ered  upon  the  book  and  author.  The  publishers  of  the 
second  issue  were  frightened.  They  had  stereotyped  the 
work,  and  printed  and  bound  a  batch  of  a  thousand  copies. 
These  they  soon  sold,  remunerating  expenses,  and  rhcn 
quietly  asked  to  be  excused  from  continuing  the  book  any 

This  second  issue  had  at  the  end,  under  the  head  of 
Correspondence,  two  letters — first,  that  of  Mr.  Emerson 
before  mentioned,  and  second,  a  long  letter  from  the  new 
poet  to  the  old  one  in  response.  This  last  epistle  has 
much  to  say  on  the  subject  of  what  we  call  our  literature, 
how  we  have  imported  it,  its  foreign  and  artificial  elements, 
its  unnatural  traits,  etc.  The  principal  assumption  is,  that 
a  real  literature  fo/  our  nation  must  be  the  expression  of  its 
native  spirit,  and  also,  of  its  objective  facts,  its  constitution 

and  manners,  the  idiosyncracics  of  the  land  and  the  race, 
and  even  of  the  climate  and  geography.  It  .speaks  much  of 
the  West,  and  dwells  with  fondness  upon  the  land  and 
people  there.  It  has  a  page  respecting  women  in  politics, 
and  in  regard  to  the  attainment  of  greater  strength,  develop, 
merit,  ami  their  "  rights" — and  boldly  proclaims  that  the 
social  and  literary  mawkishncss  which  tyranni/cs  over  us  on 
themes  relating  to  sex,  must  be  thoroughly  broken  down 
and  dohc  away  with,  before  women  can  advance  to  :»ny 
CouaVuj  with  men  in  the  practical  fields  of  life. 


Some  three  to  four  years  now  elapse,  and  we  find  a  young 
publishing  house  in  Boston  writing  to  Walt  Whitman,  and 
anxious  to  bring  out  LEAVES  OF  GRASS  anew,  and  in  better 
typographical  form.  This  leads  to  the  third  or  Boston 
edition  of  1 860-61,  a  truly  handsome  book,  in  I2ino  form, 
of  456  pages,  and  containing  many  additional  pieces.  The 
author  went  on  to  Boston,  where  he  read  the  proofs,  and 
remained  some  months,  interested  in  the  city  and  vicinity, 
and  in  the  various  objects  of  that  part  of  New  England. 
This  visit  to  Boston  occurred  in  the  spring  and  early  sum- 
mcr  of  1860,  and  I  have  heard  Whitman  speak  of  it  as  one 
of  the  plcasantest  reminiscences  of  his  life. 

After  a  brief  period  of  activity,  however,  the  new  issue, 
which  seemed  for  the  first  time  to  have  favorably  launched 
LEAVES  OP  GRASS  on  the  trade  and  market,  by  the  hands  of 
men  who  believed  in  it,  and  were  determined  to  give  it  the 
best  advantages,  met  with  the  misfortune  of  the  failure  of 
the  publishes,  in  the  business  crash  which  preceded  the 
Southern  war.  Of  the  book,  in  this,  its  third  form,  some 


four  to  five  thousand  copies  were  eventually  sokl ;  following 
which  comes  another  blank  space  in  its  career.  A  vast 
absorbing  event  s»vallo\vs  up  all  matter  of  writing  or  pub 
lishing  poems,  or  the  consideration  of  the  same.  Walt 
Whitman  goes  to  the  scene  of  \var,  and  during  the  ensuing 
years  is  occupied  in  new  and  sad  avocations. 


In  1865  he  prepares  some  seventy  or  eighty  pages,  to  be 
called  DRUM  TAPS.  Just  as  the  last  lines  are  being  put  in 
type  occurs  the  murder  of  Abraham  Lincoln.  The  poet 
keeps  back  what  has  been  already  printed,  and  some  two  or 
three  months  afterward,  in  his  SEQUEL  TO  DRUM  TAPS,  adds 
a  requiem  for  the  dead  President,  and,  with  some  other 
pieces,  joined  to  the  previous  part,  sends  forth  the  whole  in 
a  little  volume  of  a  hundred  pages. 

As  I  intend  to  give,  by  and  by,  a  more  elaborate  notice 
of  that  little  volume,  I  will  but  say  here  that  DRUM  TAPS 
is  neither  more  nor  less  than  a  memorial  or  monograph  of 
the  dead  soldiers  of  the  war — of  the  lost  tens  of  thousands 
ha,  tily  buried  in  unknown  pits — of  that  part  of  the  army, 
mainly  young  men,  that  went  ardently  forth  in  1861,  '2, 
and  '3,  from  the  farmers'  houses  and  city  homes  of  the  land, 
but  never  again  returned. 

I^EAYES     OF     pRASS 



WB  now  come  to  the  finished  compilation  and  issue  o! 
.these  poems.  The  fourth  edition  takes  the  shape  of  a 
handy  1 2mo  of  about  480  pages,  and  is  stamped  on  the 


ED'N  1867. 

It  includes  all  the  pieces  in  former  issues,  together  with 
DRUM  TAPS,  and  finishes  with  a  collection  of  poems,  mostly 
r.ew,  called  SONGS  BEFORE  PARTING.  It  is  this  edition  that  I 
make  use  of  in  the  following  remarks  and  extracts.  The 
poet  avers  that,  perhaps  with  the  exception  mentioned  in  a 
future  part  of  these  Notes,  his  work  is  completed,  for  good 
or  bad.  - 

The  book  begins  with  the  following,  on  a  leaf  by  itself. 
It  has  the  character  of  sentences  graved  on  the  pediment  of 
a  building,  which  you  scan  while  you  ascend  the  tteps  to 
pass  in : 


SMALL    11   the   tkemc   of  the  following   Chant,  yet  the  greatest—namely, 

ONE'S-SELF — that   wondrous   thing,  a   simple,   separate  person. 

That,  for  ti\e  use  of  the  New  ff'orld,  I  ting. 
jl/jn'j  physiology  complete,  from  tcp  to  toe,  I  sing.     Net  physicgnomy  alcr.c, 

nor  brain  alone,  is  worthy  for  the  muse ; — /  say  the  Form  complete  ii 

worthier  far.      The  female,  equally  with  the  male,  I  sing. 
Nor  cease  at  the  theme  of  Onc's-Sclf.     I  speak  the  word  of  the  modem,  the 

-word  EN-MASSE. 
My  Days  I  sing,  and  the  Lands — with  interstice  I  knew  of  haplets  war. 

0  friend,  whoe'er  you  are,  at  last  arriving  hither  to  commence,  I  feel  through 
every  leaf  the  pressure  of  your  hand,  which  1  return.  And  thus 
upon  our  journey  linked  together  let  us  go." 


In  the  poem  that  leads,  after  this,  he  begins  at  Paumanok, 
(Long  Island,  his  birthplace,")  and  with  a  few  short  and 
firm  strokes  opens  his  general  subject.  He  holds  the  loftiest 
tone.  No  emperor  so  arrogant.  The  America  of  the 
future  is  to  be  his  audience.  As  the  long  generations  wind 
down  the  passes  of  time,  he  sees  them  "  with  faces  turned 
sidewajrs  or  backwards  toward  me  to  listen." 

Then  more  simply  he  defines  his  own  beginning: 

44  In  the  Year  80  of  The  States, 

My  tongue,  every  atom  of  my  blood,  formM  from  this  soil,  thi*  air, 
Born  here  of  parents  born  here,  from  parents  the  same,  and  their  parents 

the  same, 
I,  now  thirty-iix  years  old,  in  perfect  health,  begin, 

Hoping  to  cease  not  till  death. 


Creeds  and  schools  in  abeyance, 

(Retiring  back  a  while,  sufficed  at  what  they  are,  but  never  forgotten,) 
I  harbor,  for  good  or  bad — I  permit  to  speak,  at  every  hazard, 
Nature  now  without  check,  with  original  energy." 


He  docs  not  forget  the  past.     He  pays  obeisance  to  all 

"Dead  poets,  philosophers;  priests, 
Martyrs,  artists,  inventors,  governments  long  since, 
Language-chapers  on  other  shores, 
Nations  once  powerful,  now  reduced,  withdrawn,  or  desohte.** 

But  he  declares  for  the  present  day,  and  the  New  World, 
as  his  aim  and  purpose. 

He  has  a  remarkable  passage  on  Religion : 

"  Each  is  not  for  its  own  sake ; 
I  say  the  whole  earth,  and  all  the  stare  in  the  sky,  are  fur  Religion*! 



I  say  no  man  has  ever  yet  been  half  devout  enough  ; 
None  has  ever  yet  adored  or  worshVd  half  enough  j 
None  has  begun  to  think  how  divine  he  himself  is,  and  how  certain 
the  future  ij." 

And  again : 

44 My  comrade! 
For  you,  to  share  with  me,  two  greatnesses — and  a  third  one, 

inclusive  and  more  resplendent, 
The  greatness  of  Love  and  Democracy — and  the  greatness  of  Religion. 

Melange  nine  own !  the  unseen  and  the  seen  j 

Mysterious  ocean  where  the  streams  empty ; 

Prophetic  spirit  of  materials  shifting  and  flickering  around  me ; 

Living  beings,  identities,  now  doubtless  near  us,  in  the  air,  that  we 

know  not  of; 

Contact  daily  and  hourly  that  will  not  release  me ; 
These  selecting — these,  in  hints,  demanded  of  me. 

Not  he,  with  a  daily  kiss,  onward  from  childhood  kissing  me, 
Has  winded  and  twisted  around  me  that  which  holds  me  to  him, 
Any  more  than  I  am  held  to  the  heavens,  to  the  spiritual  world, 
And  to  the  identities  of  the  Gods,  my  lovers,  faithful  and  true, 
After  what  they  have  done  to^nc,  suggesting  themes.** 


With  rapid  flight  he  sweeps  over  all  parts  of  the  conti 
nent,  and  ends  the  piece  with  a  sort  of  comprehensive 
hauling  into  the  net  of  his  poetry  of  every  theme  afforded 
!\v  modern  practical  life,  as  absorbed  in  the  book  now  to 

The  next  piece,  Walt  Wbltman^  the  longest  in  the  book, 
is  a  microcosm  of  the  whole,  and  of  the  poet  himself.     It 
was  written  first  in  order  of  time,  includes  the  strongest 
lights  and  shades,  has  the  most  grace,  has  a  primal  freshness 
as  of  Paradise  itself,  has  the  serenity  of  the  clearest  sky,  and 
yet  from  time  to  time,  and  especially  in  some  of  the  con 
cluding  'parts,  abandons  itself  to  a  play  of  power  almost 
unprecedented  in  authorship,  and  reminding  one  of  some 
huge  leviathan  .sporting  and   darting  and   rolling  in  the 
measureless  ocean.     The  piece,  in  its  sections,  is  varied 
beyond  .statement,  yet  all  the  parts  and  characters  arc  fused 
into  a  perfect  coherence.     Of  many,  one  $  the  youth,  the 
lover,  the  traveler,  the  father,  the  priest,  the  philosopher, 
the  participator  in  sea  fight  and  land  fight,  the  dreamy 
ecstatic,  are  all  here,  and  others  besides.     Yet  the  character 
is  one  only,  moving  with  astronomical  volition   through 
every  mood  and  phase  of  experience.     The  poet  migrates 
through  all,  yet  remain  himself.     He  exults  like  a  well- 
grown  joyous  child  ovor  the  facts  of  his  own  life,  his  cyc- 
Mt'ht,  his  sense  .of  touch  and  of  hearing,  and  all  the  delights 
and  miracles  he  sees  in  the  objects  of  the  material  world. 
Walt  Whitman  is,  in  truth,  an  epic  of  the  senses,  passions, 
attributes  of  the  body  and  soul.     It  is  especially  to  it  that 
the  iir? i  two  verses  of  the  Inscription  apply.     It  is  full  of 


animality,  without  doubt ;  but  1  think  it  is  fuller  of  aspira 
tion  and  even  of  mysticism.  Toward  the  conclusion  of  the 
piece,  the  following : 

"If  you  would  understand  me,  go  to  the  heights  or  water-shore ; 
The  nearest  gnat  is  an  explanation,  and  a  drop  or  motion  of  waves  a 

The  maul,  the  oar,  the  hand-saw,  second  my  words.  » 

No  shutterM  room*r  school  can  commune  with  Yne, 
But  roughs  «nd  little  children  better  than  they. 

The  young  mechanic  is  closest  to  me — he  knows  me  well ; 

The  woodman,  that  takes  hu  axe  and  jug  with  him,  shall  take  me  with 

him  all  day ; 
The  farm  boy,  ploughing  in  the  field,  feels  good  at  the  pound  of  my 

voice } 

In  vessels  that  sail,  my  words  sail — I  go  with  fishermen  and  seamen, 
and  love  them. 

The  soldier  camp'd,  or  upon  the  march,  is  mine ; 

On  the  night  ere  the  pending  battle,  many  seek  me,  and  I  do  not  fail 

On  the  solemn  night  (it  may  be  their  last,)  those  that  know  me,  seek 


My  face  rubs  to  the  hunter's  face,  when  he  lies  down  alone  in  his 


The  driver,  thinking  of  me,  docs  not  mind  the  jolt  of  his  wagon  j 
The  young  mother  and  old  mother  comprehend  me  ; 
The  girl  and  the  wife  r«t  the  needle  a  moment,  and  forget  where 

they  arc ; 
They  and  all  would  resume  what  I  have  told  them.** 

I  can  but  repeat,  without  undertaking  any  analysis,  that 
in  this  piece  arc  the  germs  of  the  entire  collection, — and 
pass  on. 


.       xi. 

A  main  point  of  the  bold  and  over-arching  philosophy 
of  Walt  Whitman  is  that  man,  and  man's  elements  and  life, 
can  render  the  highest  service  only  when  accepted  as  an 
entirety,  not  in  the  spirit  of  carping  criticism,  but  in  the 
spirit  in  which  they  were  created. 

But  the  prevailing  moral  tastes,  like  the  intellectual,  show 
themselves  in  the  false  interpretations  that  have  been  placed 
upon  his  illustrations  of  this  theory,  especially  of  the  col 
lection  of  short  poems  called  Children  of  Adam,  in  which 
the  author  celebrates  his  sex,  and  speaks  in  the  interest  of 
the  amative  part  of  the  human  physiology. 

A  glance  at  this  portion  of  his  book  suffices  to  show  that 
its  author  has  not  imitated  the  licentious  poets  at  all,  but 
that  his  method  is  akin  to  the  Biblical  writers,  who  have 
treated  these  things  with  candor  and  purc-mindcdncss,  im 
plying  the  sanctity  of  sex,  and  using  it  as  a  type  in  a  higher 
and  more  spiritual  language.  Of  the  morbid,  venereal, 
euphemistic,  gentlemanly,  club-house  lust,  which,  under 
thin  disguises,  is  in  every  novel  and  most  of  the  poetry  of 
our  times,  he  has  not  the  first  word  or  thought — not  the 
faintest  whisper.  What  he  has,  he  has ;  ami  it  is  Adam, 
fresh,  full,'  rose-colored,  walking  in  the  garden  in  primal 
health  and  warmth,  and  sweet  as  the  dews : 

•'Ages  and  ages,  returning  at  intervals, 
Und^stroy'd,  wandering  immortal, 

Lusty,  phallic,  with  the  potent  original  loins,  perfectly  sweet, 
I,  chanter  of  Adamic  songs, 

Through  the  new  garden,  the  West,  the  great  cities  calling, 
Dcliriate,  thus  prelude  what  is  generated,  offering  these,  offering  myself, 
Bathing  myself,  bathing  my  wngi  in  Sex, 
Offspring  of  my  loins.** 


The  sexual  acts  and  feelings,  he  chants  mainly  with 
reference  to  offspring,  and  the  future  perfection  of  the  race, 
through  a  superior  fatherhood  and  motherhood.  His  treat 
ment  of  woman  is  as  far  from  levity  as  from  coarseness. 
He  sees  her  in  her  universal  human  relations  as  the  "  teeming 
mother  of  mothers,"  and  recognizes  that  upon  the  health  of 
her  body,  the  development  of  her  powers,  and  the  normal 
exercise  of  her  maternal  functions,  all  the  future  of  the  race 
depends  : 

"Be  not  ashamed,  women—  your  privilege  enclose*  the  rett,  and  U  the  exit 

of  the  rest, 
You  are  the  gate*  of  the  body,  and  you  are  the  gates  of  the  soul. 

The  female  contains  all  qualities,  and  tempers  them  —  she  is  in  her  place, 

and  moves  with  perfect  balance; 

She  is  all  things  duly  vcil'd  —  she  is  both  passive  and  active; 
She  ia  to  conceive  daughter!  as  well  as  ions,  and  tons  at  well  as  daughter*. 

As  I  see  my  soul  irflccted  in  nature  ; 

As  I  see  through  .1  mist,  one  with  inexpressible  completeness  and  beauty, 

Sec  the  bent  head,  «nd  arms  folded  over  the  breast—  the  female  I  »ce." 

His  allusions  and  instances  to  the  amative  act  arc  strong, 
but  always  perfectly  healthy: 

*'The  hairy  wild-bee  that  murmurs  and  hanker*  up  and  down—  that  grtjiw 
the  full-grown  lady-Huwcr,  curves  upon  her  with  amorjus  firm 
legs,  takes  his  will  of  her,  and  holds  himself'  tremulous  and  tight 
till  he  in 

And,  concluding  another  passage  : 

"Bridegroom  night  of  love,  working  lurely  and  softly  into  the  proitratc 

dawn  | 

Undulating  into  ths  willing  and  yielding  day, 
Lost  in  the  cleave  of  the  claspinj  and  swcct-llcJiM  day.'* 


The  poet  has  charged  h'mself,  as  he  passes  on,  to  make 
full  acknowledgment,  for  once  or  twice  at  least,  to  the 
Animal  amative  jin  man,  which  is  the  basis  of  all  there  is  of 
good  and  divine  in  him ;  and  he  scornfully  rejects  the 
puerile  creed  that  would  put  apart  sex,  and  what  arises 
from  it,  in  humanity,  as  a  forbidden  and  shameful  topic, 
unworthy  poetic  treatment.  His  position  toward  the  moral 
and  aesthetic  qualities,  rising  out  of  this  question,  is  propor 
tionately  serious ;  though  he  has  refrained  from  unduly 
exalting  any  part  or  endowment. 

In  these  brief  Notes  I  cannot  elaborate,  though  a  volume 
ought  to  be  written  on  this  point.  I  can  but  say  that  in 
the  furiously  assaulted  pieces  now  under  notice,  Walt 
Whitman,  in  my  opinion,  has  best  won  his  laurels,  his 
fadeless  future  bardic  crown.  Not  by  the  temporary  or 
common  judgment  must  these  pieces  be  judged.  Offenb-ve 
to  the  vulgar,  to  the  merely  conventional,  to  h'm  or  her 
who  weakly  joins  the  prevailing  delusion  of  the  inherent 
vilcncss  of  sex,  and,  above  all,  to  the  constitutionally  lech 
erous,  who  think  of  but  one  purpose  in  sex,  and  attempt  to 
hide  their  own  rank  nature  by  extra  verbal  vocifcrousness 
in  such  questions; — yet  the  high  and  clear  soul  will  ever 
welcome  these  pieces  with  applauding  joy,  as  Nature's,  and, 
(if  one  may  say  so,)  God's  own  celebration  of  amativeness 
and  defence  of  sex. 

To  the  noblest  male  or  female,  there  is  no  more  reason 
for  excluding  sex,  and  what  belongs  to  it,  from  the  works 
and  treatment  of  the  poet,  than  there  would  be  to  exclude 
it  from  the  works  of  the  surgeon  or  physician. 



There  is  in  LEAVES  OP  GRASS  none  of  the  customary  sen- 
timcntal  adulation  of  the  "  softer  sex  " — none  of  that  fulsome 
flattery  and  low-bowing  deference  which  inflates  the  gallant 
poetry  of  the  day ;  but  it  is  the  first  grand  scheme  of  life 
anywhere,  according  to  my  knowledge,  that  proceeds  upon, 
and  inculcates,  the  perfect  equality  of  the  sexes.  «« The 
woman  the  same  as  the  man"  our  poet  is  never  tired  o» 
repeating.  How  I  love  to  dwell  upon  this  picture  of  the 
typical  woman  of  his  poems: 

41  Her  shape  arises, 

She,  less  guarded  than  ever,  yet  more  guarded  than  ever; 
The  gross  and  soil'd  she  moves  among  do  not  make  her  gross  and  soilM  ; 
She  knows  the  thoughts  as  she  passes — nothing  i*  conceal'd  from  her; 
She  is  none  the  less  considerate  or  friendly  therefor ; 
She  is  the  best-beloved — it  is  without  exception — she  has  no  reason  to 

fear,  and  she  does  not  fear; 
Oaths,  quarrels,  hiccupp'd  songs,  smutty  expressions,  are  idle  to  her  as 

she  passes; 

•She  is  silent — she  is  possess  M  of  herself — they  do  not  offend  her ; 
She  receives  them  as  the  laws  of  nature  receive  them — she  is  strong, 
She  too  is  a  law  of  nature — there  is  no  law  stronger  than  she  if.** 



The  human  body,  in  this  portion  of  the  book,  and  often 
elsewhere  throughout  its  pages,  receives  indeed  a  treatment 
which  may  well  strike  society  with  wonder,  and  which, 
from  the  conventions  of  the  day,  it  is  not  easy  to  penetrate 
•or  comprehend. 

The  poet  seems  to  gaze  in  a  mood  of  awe  and  worship 
upon  the  mere  material  human  body,  cither  male. or  female, 
and  all  its  functions.  Nothing  !s  more  intoxicating,  nothing 


more  sacred  than  the  Body ;  he  often  capitalizes  the  word, 
as  is  done  with  the  name  of  the  Deity.  Far  different  from 
the  world's  acceptance  of  it,  is  his  acceptance.  Far  from 
avoiding  it,  to  dwell  upon  the  Body,  to  sing  of  it,  seems  to 
imbue  him  with  a  devout  ecstacy  and  passion. 

The  purity  of  the  Body  in  its  juices  and  vascular  and 
vital  attributes,  and  all  its  organs,  is,  in  fact,  one  of  the 
lessons,  if  not  the  chief  lesson  of  the  book.  To  the 
young,  or  to  any,  its  atmosphere  in  this  respect  is  invaluable. 
One  who  has  the  volume  for  a  daily  companion  will  be 
under  a  constant  invisible  influence  toward  physiological 
cleanliness,  strength,  and  gradual  severance  from  all  that 
corrupts  and  makes  morbid  and  mean. 


Children  of  Adam  is  beautifully  rounded  off  and  finished 
by  a  collection  of  poems  called  Calamus,  celebrating  manly 
friendship  and  the  need  of  comrades.  These  pieces,  the 
poet  declares,  "expose  him  more  than  all  his  other  poems." 
The  sentiment  here  is  primitive,  athletic,  taking  form  in  all 
manner  of  large  and  homely  out-door  images,  and  springs, 
as  any  one  may  sec,  directly  from  the  heart  and  experience 
of  the  poet.  It  has,  too,  a  political  significance.  Not 
paper  agreement  or  force  of  arms  is  to  perpetuate  the  Union 
and  make  the  continent  indissoluble,  but  love  of  man  for 
man,  of  friend  for  friend : 

"What  think  yru  I  take  my  pen  in  hand  to  record? 
The  battle-ship,  perfect-model'd,  majestic,  that  I  law  past  the  offing 

to-day  under  full  sail  ? 
The  splendors  of  the  past  day?    Or  the  splendor  of  the  night  that 

envelops  me  ? 


Or  the  vaunted  glory  and  growth  of  the  great  city  i prcad  around  me  P— 

But  1  record  of  two  simple  men  I  taw  to- Jay,  on  the  pier,  in  the  midit 

of  the  crowd,  parting  the  parting  of  dear  friends ; 
The  one  to  remain  hung  on  the  other'*  neck,  and  passionately  kiss'd  him, 
While  the  one  to  depart  tightly  prest  the  one  to  remain  in  hi*  arms." 

Then  this  quaint  touch: 

"  I  hear  it  was  charged  against  me  that  I  sought  to  destroy  institutions; 
But  really  I  am  neither  for  nor  against  institutions ; 
(What  indeed  have  I  in  common  with  them? — Or  what  with  the 

destruction  of  them  ?) 
Only  I  will  establish  in  the  Mannahatta,  and  in  every  city  of  These 

States,  inland  and  seaboard, 
And  in  the  fields  and  woods,  and  above  every  keel,  little  or  large,  that 

dents  the  water, 

Without  edifices,  or  rules,  or  trustees,  or  any  argument, 
The  institution  of  the  dear  love  of  comrades." 


The  pieces  of  the  volume,  though  numerous,  and  both 
large  and  small,  fall,  in  time,  into  identity,  and  become  one 
poem,  which  finds  its  generic  type  in  a  human  being.  The 
writer  says  To  a  Historian: 

"You  who  celebrate  bygones! 
Who  have  explored  the  outward,  the  surfaces  of  the  races — the  life  that 

has  exhibited  itself; 
Who  have  treated  of  man  as  the  creature  of  politics,  aggregates,  rulers 

and  priests; 
I,  habitue  of  the  Allcghanies,  treating  man  as  he  is  in  himself,  in  his 

own  rights, 
Pressing  the  pulse  of  the  life  that  has  seldom  exhibited  itself,  (the  great 

pride  of  man  in  himself}) 
Chanter  of  personality,  outlining  what  is  yet  to  be,  I  project  the  history 

of  the  future." 


The  charge  of  want  of  unity  of  aim,  or  wholeness,  brought  » 
against  the  earlier  editions,  will  not  hold  against  the  com-  \ 
plctcd  work,  lit  up  by  the  Inscription.     To  put  it  in  a  sen-  • 
tcncc,  the  object  of  the  author  is  to  outline  a  New  Man, 
whom  he  regards  as  typical  of  the  American  of  the  future, 
and  of  whom  he  perpetually  uses  himself  as  the  illustration. 
This  character  he  has  mapped  out  in  bold,  strong  lines,  and 
in  its  interest  has  written  his  poems.     Of  course  the  idea  is 
followed  with  the  greatest  freedom,  and  appears  best  when 
the  pieces  are  taken  together,  and  viewed  at  a  little  remove 
as  it  were. 


The  Nationality  of  the  book  seems  to  me  perfect.  Its 
treatment  and  consideration  of  the  States  of  this  Union  as 
so  many  equal  brothers,  of  exactly  average  right  and  posi 
tion,  each  the  peer  of  the  other,  is  of  the  greatest  value. 
No  statement,  or  code  of  law,  can  ever  present  this  principle 
to  the  impressive  degree  in  which  LEAVES  OF  GRASS  presents 
it.  It  becomes  a  central  palpable  fact,  too  certain  to  need 
argument,  as  life  is. 

But  not  the  States  alone;  it  expands  from  them,  and 
includes  the  world.  Out  of  it,  in  these  poems,  flow  count 
less  analogies,  illustrations,  and  noble  lines,  connecting  an 
American  citizen  with  the  citizens  of  all  nations : 

"Each  of  us  inevitable; 

Each  of  us  limitless— each  of  us  with  his  or  her  right  upon  the  earth; 
Each  of  us  allow'd  the  eternal  purports  of  the  earth; 
Each  of  us  here  as  divinely  as  any  is  here/* 

The  book  has  indeed  such  good  will  on  the  widest  scale, 
and  places  the  United  States  in  such  an  attitude  of  tolcra- 


tion  and  amicablencss.  The  globe  is  large  enough  for  us 
all.  There  are  far  more  point*  of  resemblance  between 
distant  nations  than  points  of  opposition.  (See  Salut  au 
Monde,  This  Moment  Teaming  and  Thoughtful,  etc.) 

XVII.     • 

A  profound  claim,  launched  into  the  moral  and  aesthetic 
fields,  the  same  as  the  claim  of  equality  in  the  political  Held, 
has  of  late  years  been  pressed  from  many  quarters,  and  has 
gained  lodgement  in  most  leading  modern*  minds,  although 
not  yet  practically  recognized  at  all  in  the  forms  of  litera 
ture,  or  pcrhap*  in  any  of  the  forms.  It  is  the  claim,  or 
idea,  that  any  and  every  individual,  no  matter  what  his 
occupation,  farm  laborer,  common  workman,  sailor,  etc., 
has  open  to  him  his  equal  lot  and  chance  for  physical, 
moral,  and  graceful  development,  with  the  choicest  of  the 
selecter  few ;  that,  still  retaining  his  occupation,  he  may  be 
of  largest  soul  and  personality. 

Of  what  is  contained  in  this  idea,  LEAVES  OP  GRASS  is 
the  poem.  Upon  the  assumption  of  this  claim  as  one  settled 
and  unimpeachable,  the  work  is  built. 


Satire — has  Walt  Whitman  that  talent  ?  Docs  he  wield 
the  branding  iron  ?  Read  To  Get  Betimes  in  Boston  Town. 
Read  Respondez.  The  mocking  of  devils  is  less  caustic 
than  the  last-named  piece.  He  holds  at  times  a  stern, 
warning,  rebuking  tone,  peculiar  to  himself,  as  in  the  Hand 
Mirror,  This  Compost,  and  the  bitter  lines  To  Identify  the 
\6tb,  \Jtb,  and  \%tb  Presidentiads. 

Then  of  Imagination,  Correspondence ; — I  doubt  whether 

for  their  purposes  the  English  language  affords  a  finer  speci 
men  of  verbal  structure  than  the  Leaf  of  Facet.  A  German 
scholar  and  traveler  has  described  this  piece  as  being  both 
Darwinian  and  Dantcsque.  I  quote  onlv  its  first  section : 

"Sauntering  the  pavement,  or  riding  the  country  by-road — lo!   such 


Faces  of  friendship,  precision,  caution,  suavity,  ideality ; 
The  spiritual  prescient  face — the  always  welcome,  common,  benevolent 

The  face  of  the  singing  of  music — the  grand  faces  of  natural  lawyers 

and  judges,  broad  at  the  back-top; 
The  faces  of  hunters  and  fishers,  bulged  at  the  brows — the  lhaved 

Llanch'd  faces  of  orthodox  citizens; 

The  pure,  extravagant,  yearning,  questioning  artist's  face; 
The  ugly  face  of  some  beautiful  Soul,  the  handsome  detested  or  despi^ 

face ; 
Tlic  sacred  faces  of  infants,  the  illuminated  face  of  the  mother  of  many 


The  face  of  an  amour,  the  face  of  veneration ; 
The  face  as  of  a  dream,  the  face  of  an  immobile  rock; 
The  face  withdrawn  of  its  good  and  bad,  a  castrated  face; 
A  wild  hawk,  his  wings  clipped  by  the  clipper; 
A  stallion  that  yielded  at  last  to  the  thongs  and  knife  of  the  gelder." 


Every  now  and  then  along  the  book,  as  we  travel  its 
paths,  we  get  a  whiiT  of  something  that  culture,  be  it  the 
best  in  the  world,  never  alone  could  give.  It  is  like  the 
smell  of  wild  sage  and  rhyme  in  the  pure  air  of  the  high 
plateaus  far  west.  He  turns  pensively  away  from  all  the 
profits,  luxuries,  and  irksome  case  of  the  cities. 

"O  it  lurks  in  me  night  and  day— "-what  is  gain  after  all  to  savageness 
and  freedom?" 



Finally,  I  love  LEAVES  OF  GRASS  for  its  cheerful  good 
faith,  and  because  to  its  pages  the  cursed,  finical,  self-com 
placent  smartness  of  our  age  has  not  entered,  and  does  not 
once  stain  with  its  brilliant  and  bitter  poison  a  single  line 
there.  The  characteristic  of  prevailing  literatures  to 
make  fun  of  everything.  Our  writers  arc  perpetually  en 
gaged  in  turning  character  and  humanity  around  and  around, 
to  discover  something  ridiculous  and  to  point  out  defects, 
and  are  always  generating  and  giving  out  productions  from 
a  supercilious  point  of  view.  Amid  them  comes  this  work, 
like  a  visitant  from  another  and  a  distant  clime.  On  its 
forehead  BELIEF  is  stamped ;  and,  fortified  with  complete 
science,  its  firm  and  mellow  voice  again  speaks  as  from  that 
atmosphere  of  far-back  time  when  God  descended  and 
walked  as  a  brother  among  men. 

Out  of  such  atmosphere,  and  with  such  primal  and  uni 
versal  tics,  up  springs  this  structure,  sheaf-like,  enigmatic, 
various,  yet  one ;  and  as  we  gaze  and  gaze,  and  wish  the 
unlocking  word,  gradually  the  dimness  and  the  many-tinted, 
many-twining  lines  become  illumined,  definite,  showing 
clearly  the  word — MODLRNNESS. 




WHAT  is  the  reason  that  the  inexorable  and  perhaps  decid 
ing  standard  by  which  poems,  and  other  productions  of  art, 
must  be  tried,  after  the  application  of  all  minor  tests,  i&  the 
standard  of  absolute  Nature  ?  The  question  can  hardly  be 
answered,  but  the  answer  may  be  hinted  at.  The  standard  of 
form,  for  instance,  is  presented  by  Nature,  out  of  the  pre 
vailing  shapes  of  her  growths,  and  appears  to  perfection  in 
the  human  body.  All  the  forms  in  art,  sculpture,  architec 
ture,  etc.,  follow  it.  Of  course  the  same  in  colors ;  and,  in 
fact,  the  same  even  in  music,  though  more  human  and 
carried  higher. 

But  a  nearer  hint  still.  The  same  moral  elements  and 
qualities  that  exist  in  man  in  a  conscious  state,  exist,  says 
the  great  German  philosopher,  in  manifold  material  Nature, 
and  all  her  products,  in  an  unconscious  state.  Powerful 
and  susceptible  men — in  other  words,  poets,  naturally  so — 
have  an  affiliation  and  identity  with  the  material  Nature  in 
its  entirety  and  parts,  that  the  majority  of  people  (including 
most  specially  intellectual  persons)  cannot  begin  to  under- 


stand ;  so  passionate  is  it,  and  so  convertible  seems  to  be 
the  essence  of  the  demonstrative  human  spirit,  with  the 
undemonstrative  spirit  of  the  hill  and  wood,  the  river,  fieM, 
and  sky. 

I  know  that,  at  first  sight,  certain  works  of  art,  in  some 
branches,  do  not  exhibit  this  identity  and  convertibility. 
But  it  needs  only  a  little  trouble  and  thought  to  trace  them. 
I  assert  that  every  true  work  of  art  has  arisen,  primarily, 
out  of  its  maker,  apart  from  his  talent  of  manipulation, 
being  filled  fuller  than  other  men  with  this  passionate 
affiliation  and  identity  with  Nature.  Then  I  go  a  step 
further,  and,  without  being  an  artist  myself,  I  feel  that 
every  good  artist  of  any  age  would  join  me  in  subordinating 
the  most  vaunted  beauties  of  the  best  artificial  productions, 
to  the  daily  and  hourly  beauty  of  the  shows  and  objects  of 
outward  Nature.  I  mean  inclusively,  the  objects  of  Nature 
in  their  human  relations. 

To  him  that  is  pregnable,  the  rocks,  the  hills,  the  even 
ing,  the  grassy  bank,  the  young  trees  and  old  trees,  the 
various  subtle  dynamic  forces,  the  sky,  the  seasons,  the 
birds,  the  domestic  animals,  etc.,  furnish  intimate  and  pre 
cious  relations  at  first  hand,  which  nothing  at  second  hand 
can  supply.  Their  spirit  affords  to  man's  spirit,  I  some 
times  think,  its  only  inlet  to  clear  views  of  the  highest 
Philosophy  and  Religion.  Only  in  their  spirit  can  he 
himself  have  health,  sweetness,  and  proportion ;  and  only 
in  their  spirit  can  he  give  any  essentially  sound  judgment  of 
a  poem,  no  matter  what  the  subject  of  it  may  be. 

But  it  seems  to  me  that  the  spirit  or  influence  I  allude  to 
is,  in  our  age,  entirely  lucking,  either  as  an  inspircr,  or  any 
part  of  the  inspiration  of  ppems,  or  as  a  purt  of  the  critical 


faculty  which  judges  them,  or  judges  of  any  work  of  art. 
We  have  swarms  of  little  poctlings,  producing  swarms  of 
soft  and  sickly  little  rhymelcts,  on  a  par  with  the  feeble 
calibre  and  vague  and  puerile  inward  melancholy,  and  out 
ward  affectation  and  small  talk,  of  that  genteel  mob  called 
"society."  We  have,  also,  more  or  less  of  statues  and 
statuettes,  and  plenty  of  architecture  and  upholster),  and 
filagree  work,  very  pretty  and  ornamental,  and  fit  for  those 
who  are  fit  for  it.  But  anything,  in  any  of  these  fields, 
contributed  at  first  hand,  in  the  spirit  I  have  spoken  of,  or 
abh  tr»  give  tonic  and  elevating  results  to  the  people,  we 
certainly  have  not.  Who  thinks  of  it?  Who  comes  for 
ward  capable  of  producing  it?  Who  even  realizes  the 
necessity  of  producing  it? 


The  whole  stress  of  Walt  Whitman  is  the  supply  of 
what  is  wanted  in  this  direction.  He  possesses  almost  to 
excess  the  quality  in  which  our  imaginative  writers  and 
artists  arc  all  and  each  of  them  barren.  The  inspiration  of 
the  facts  per  se  of  the  human  body,  and  of  rude  abysmal 
man,  arc  upon  him ;  and  he  speaks  out  of  them  without 
being  diverted  a  moment  by  the  current  conventions,  or 
any  inquiry  as  to  what  is  the  literary  mode,  or  what  the 
public  taste. 

He  says  plainly  enough :  I  do  not  wish  to  speak  from  the 
atmosphere  of  books,  or  art,  or  the  parlor;  nor  in  the  interest 
of  the  elegant  and  conventional  modes.  I  pitch  my  voice 
in  the  open  air. 

"Not  for  an  embroiderer; 

(There  will  always  be  plenty  of  embroiderers — I  welcome  them  alsoj) 
But  tor  the  fibre  of  things,  and  tor  inherent  men  and  women. 


Not  to  chisel  ornaments, 

But   to  chisel   with   free   stroke   the  heads  and  limb*  of  plenteous 

Supreme  Gods,  that  The  States  may  realize  them,  walking  and 



Who  is  the  great  poet,  and  where  the  perfect  poem? 
Nature  itself  is  the  only  perfect  poem,  and  the  Kosmos  is 
the  only  great  poet.  The  Kosmos : 

"Who  includes  diversity,  and  is  Nature, 

Who  is  the  amplitude  of  the  earth,  and  the  coarseness  and  sexuality  of 
the  earth,  and  the  great  charity  of  the  earth,  and  the  equilibrium 

Who  has  not  look'd  forth  from  the  windows,  the  eyes,  for  nothing,  or 
whose  brain  held  audience  with  messengers  for  nothing; 

Who  contains  believers  and  disbelievers — Who  is  the  most  majestic 

Who  holds  duly  his  or  her  triune  proportion  of  realism,  spiritualism,  and 
of  the  arsthctic,  or  intellectual, 

Who,  having  considered  the  Body,  rinds  all  its  organs  and  parts  good ; 

Who,  out  of  the  theory  of  the  earth,  and  of  his  or  her  body,  under 
stands  by  subtle  analogies  all  other  theories, 

The  theory  of  a  city,  a  poem,  and  of  the  large  politics  of  These  States." 

The  image  Walt  Whitman  seems  generally  to  have  in 
his  mind  is  that  of  the  Earth,  "  round,  rolling,  compact," 
and  he  aims  to  produce  effects  analagous  to  those  produced 
by  it ;  to  address  the  mind  as  the  landscape  or  the  mountains, 
or  ideas  of  space  or  time,  address  it;  not  to  excite  admira 
tion  by  fine  and  minute  effects,  but  to  feed  the  mind  by 
exhibitions  of  power ;  to  make  demands  upon  it,  like  those 
made  by  Nature ;  to  give  it  the  grasp  and  vvhblesomcness 
which  come  from  contact  with  realities ;  to  vitalize  it  by 
bringing  to  bear  upon  it  material  forms,  and  the  width  of 

the  globe,  a*  the  atmosphere  bean  upon  the  Mood  through 
the  lungs ;  working  alw.iy.i  by  indirections,  und  depending 
on  a  rurreypon-tivc  working  of  the  init.d  that  read.-*  or  hears, 
with  the  mind  that  produce.-,  us  the  female  with  the  male; 
careless  of  mere  art,  yet  loyally  achieving  the  effects  oi 
higher  art ;  not  unmindful  of  details  yet  subordinating 
everything  to  the  total  effect, 


Yet  no  modern  book  of  poems  says  so  little  about  Nature, 
or  contain*  so  few  compliments  to. her.  Its  subject,  from 
beginning  to  end,  is  MAN,  and  whatever  pertains  to  or 
^row»  out  of  him  ;  the  fact*  of  mechanics,  the  life  of  cities 
and  farm*,  und  the  various  trades  and  occupations,  What 
1  describe,  therefore,  mu*t  be  sought  in  it-,  interior.  The 
poet  is  not  merely  an  otaerver  of  Nature,  r.ut  is  immersed 
in  her,  und  from  thence  turns  his  gu/e  upon  people,  upon 
the  uy.e,  and  upon  America,  Heretofore,  we  have  had 
Nature  talked  of  and  dhcu^ed ;  these  poems  approximate 
to  a  direct  utterance  of  Nature  herself, 

From  this  come*,  in  a  ncnse,  the  male  principle  of  tho 
book,  which  j-.iven  that  erect,  proud,  H^retmivc,  forenoon 
character,  the  opposite  of  dallying,  or  sentimcntalUm,  or 
poetic  sweetness,  or  reclining  at  ease — but  which  tallies  • 
man'*  rude  health  und  xrcngth,  and  goes  forward  with 
tincwy  life  and  action,  i'rom  the  Mime  source  also  comes 
that  quality  of  the  book  which  makes  it,  on  the  surface, 
utmost  as  little  literary  or  recondite  as  the  rocks  and  the 
trees  are,  or  as  a  spring  morning  is.  Yet  a  careful  analysis 
fthows  that  the  author  has  certainly  wrought  with  all  the 
resources  of  literary  composition  at  command.  In  the 


same  drgrce  that  the  hook  is  great  in  a  primordial,  aboriginal 
sense,  is  ii  great  in  a  Gccthean,  Emersonian  literary  sense. 
It  touches  and  includes  both  extremes ;  not  only  is  the 
bottom  here,  but  the  top  also  ;  not  only  all  that  science  can 
give,  but  more  besides.  No  doubt  this  fact  greatly  misled 
the  critics,  who  failed  to  discriminate  between  mere  wild- 
ness  and  savagery,  as  waiting  for  science  and  culture,  and 
that  vital  sympathy  with  Nature,  and  freedom  from  con 
ventional  literary  restraint,  which  comes  only  with  the 
fullest  science  and  culture,  and  which  is  one  of  the  dis 
tinguishing  features  of  our  author. 

Of  the  current  condition  of  criticism  in  this  country,  the 
future  literary  historian  will  need  no  more  painful  or  de 
cisive  proof  than  the  fact  that  a  production  like  LEAVES  OP 
GRASS  could  pass  as  merely  a  crude  and  awkward  attempt 
at  poetry,  by  an  unlettered  man,  perhaps  a  common  laborer, 
v/ho,  (it  was  graciously  admitted,)  with  the  advantages  or 
"culture"  and  "good  society,"  might  have  made  sleek  little 
rhymes,  like  his  contemporaries.  I  know  the  common  rule 
that  aspirants  to  literary  fame  must  be  measured  by  the 
standards  of  art  and  literature  in  vogue  at  the  time.  But 
when  a  man  comes  who  justifies  new  standards  and  princi 
ples,  the  question  then  is,  not  whether  he  can  stand  the  tests  of 
the  academy,  but  whether  the  academy  can  stand  his  tests. 


He  gives  not  so  much  thought,  as  the  stuff  of  which 
thought  is  made.  "  I  finish  no  specimens,"  he  says ;  "  What 
others  give  as  specimens,  I  show  by  cxhaustlcss  laws,  as 
Nature  does,  fresh  and  modern  continually."  Indeed  he 
seems  careful  to  avoid  making  a  clean  intellectual  statement 


of  a  principle,  or  of  shining  in  the  scholastic  manner  at  all. 
He  no  sooner  starts  a  principle  than  he  surrounds  it  and 
« lothc.  it  with  a  living  texture  of  things  ami  doings,  redeem 
ing  it  from  all  appearance  of  an  abstraction,  and  giving  it  a 
palpable  flcsh-and-blood  reality ;  so  that  the  effect  upon  the 
mind  is  not  the  cffeVt  of  gems  or  crystals,  or  their  analogues 
in  poetry,  but  of  living  organisms.  Take  the  poem  or 
which  the  following  is  the  opening: 

•'There  wa<  a  child  went  forth  every  diyj 
And  the  liirt  <  bjcvt  he  looJt'd  ujxm,  that  obj-ct  he  bcc.imc ; 
And  that  object  became  part  of  him  for  the  day,  or  a  certain  part  of 
the  day,  or  for  many  year?,  or  stretching  cycles  of  years. 

The  early  lilacs  became  part  of  this  child, 

And  gr.'^,  and  white  and  red  morning-glories,  and  white  and  red  clover, 

and  the  song  of  the  phrrbe-bird, 
An  i  the  Third-month  lambs,  and  the  »o\v's  pink-faint  litter,  and  the 

mare's  foil,  and  the  cow's  calf, 

And  the  noisy  brood  of  the  barn-yard,  or  by  the  mire  of  the  pond -side, 
And  the  ri.-h  suspending  themselves  so  curiously  below  there — and  the 

beautiful  curijus  liquid, 
And  the  water-plants  with  their  graceful  fin  heads — all  became  part 

of  him." 

This  passage  contains  a  philosophical  and  psychological 
principle;  yet  it  is  not  stated  or  precipitated  at  all,  but 
held  in  liquid  solution. 

The  poet,  like  Nature,  seems  best  pleased  when  his 
meaning  is  well  folded  up,  put  away,  and  surrounded  by  a 
curious  array  of  diverting  attributes  and  objects.  Perhaps 
the  point  may  be  conveyed  by  the  term  elliptical.  A  word 
or  brief  phrase  is  often,  or  usually,  put  for  a  full  picture  or« 
idea,  or  train  of  ideas  or  pictures.  Bat  the  word  or  phrase 


is  always  an  electric  one,    lie  never  atopi  to  elaborate, 
never  explain*, 

Docs  it  seem  a*  if  I  pmi.<cd  him  for  makinp  riddles  ?  I*  not  it  |  he  doc*  not  make  riddle*,  or  anything  like 
them,  He  in  very  subtle,  Very  indirect,  and  very  rapid, 
and  if  the  reader  is  not  fully  awake  will  surely  elude  him. 
Take  this  passage  from  the  poem  Waft  Whitman: 

"Of  the  turbid  pool  that  lie*  in  the  autumn  forest, 
Of  the  raoon  that  descends  the  steep*  of  the  soughing  twilight, 
TOM,  sparklet  of  day  and  dusk !  tou  un  the  black  stems  that  decay  in 

the  muck ! 
TOM  to  the  meaning  gibberish  of  the  dry  limbs. 

1  a»crnd  from  the  moon,  I  ascend  from  the  night  \ 
I  perceive  that  the  ghastly  glimmer  it  noonday  sunbeams  reflected  $ 
And  debouch  to  the  steady  and  central  from  the  offspring  great  or 

A  picture  of  Death  and  a  hint  of  immortality,  and  that 
the  shows  of  things  never  stop  at  what  they  seem  to  the 
light,  The  pale  and  ghastly  glimmer  of  the  moon  in  the 
midnight  pool  is,  when  viewed  truly,  the  litht  of  the  ever- 
glorious  sun. 


Then  further  as  to  the  question  of  finish  or  definite  aim. 
To  me  the  book  is  much  like  pure  arterial  blood.  No 
other  poems  afford  a  paraucl  in  this  respect.  Out  of  its 
very  nature  arises  the  objection  from  certain  quarters  that  it 
has  no  distinct  purpose  or  aim,  and  therefore  has  no  artistic 
completion.  It  certainly  has  not  the  finish  of  a  talc, 
romance,  or  any  plot,  which  begins,  goes  on,  and  closes ; 
•neither  has  it  the  special  purpose  of  a  partisan  book,  or  of  a 
religious,  scientific  or  philosophical  treatise;  but  it  has 


purpose  npnin  just  as  Nature  has;  to  nourish,  to  strengthen, 
to  fortify,  to  tantalize,  to  provoke  curiosity,  to  hint,  t(S 
supgcst,  to  lead  on  and  on,  and  never  stop  and  never  satisfy. 
Its  final  end  is  power;  it  walls  no  man  in,  but  opens  up  to 
him  endless  prospects  into  space  and  the  verities  of  the  soul. 
The  author  himself  says  that  his  poems  arc  not  so  much  a 
good  lesson,  as  that  they  take  down  the  bars  to  a  good 
lesson : 

"they  arc  not  the  finish,  "}ut  rather  the  outset; 

They  bring  none  to  his  or  her  terminus,  or  to  be  contented  and  full; 
Whom  they  take,  they  take  into  space,  to  behold  the  birth  of  stars,  to 

behold  one  of  the  meanings, 
To  launch  off  with  absolute  faith — to  sweep  through  the  ceaseless 

rings,  and  never  be  quiet  again." 

The  brilliant  epigrammatist  will  surely  find  the  book  an 
offence,  and  will  battle  against  it ;  because  the  poetry  of  Walt 
Whitman  is,  in  a  certain  sort,  death  to  epigrams,  and  is 
either  the  large  poetry  of  the  Whole,  of  Science,  and  of 
God,  or  it  is  nothing. 

The  profit  of  the  book  is  largely  in  what  it  infers  and 
necessitates.  Like  the  bibles  of  nations,  it  is  not  so  much 
what  it  gives  in  itself,  as  what  it  certainly  gives  birth  to— a 
long  train  of  revelations,  new  opinions,  beliefs  and  institu 

The  highest  art  is  not  to  express  art,  but  to  express  life 
and  communicate  power.  Let  those  persons  who  have 
been -so  fast  to  criticise  LEAVES  OF  GRASS  in  this  respect 
reflect  if  Nature  be  not  open  to  the  same  objections,  and  if 
the  living  figure  be  not  less  than  the  marble  statue,  because 
it  does  not  stimulate  the  art  faculty.  Both  readers  and 
writers  need  to  be  told  that  a  poet  may  propose  to  himself 

h'ghcr  ends  than  lace  or  needlework.  Modern  verse  does 
not  express  the  great  liberating  power  of  Art,  but  only  its 
conventional  limitations,  and  the  elegant  finish  of  detail*  to 
which  society  runs.  It  never  once  ceases  to  appeal  directly 
to  that  part  of  the  mind  which  is  cogni/ant  of  mere  form — 
form  denoted  by  regular  lines.  It  is  never  so  bold  as  music, 
which  in  the  analysis  is  discord,  but  in  the  synthesis  har 
mony;  and  falls  far  short  of  painting,  which  puts  in  masses 
of  subdued  color  to  one  brilliant  point,  and  which  is  forever 
escaping  out  of  mere  form  into  vista. 

(  To  accuse  Walt  Whitman,  therefore,  of  want  of  art,  is 
to  overlook  his  generic  quality,  and  shows  ignorance  of  the 
ends  for  which  Nature  and  Time  exist  to  the  mind.  He 
has  the  art  which  surrounds  all  art,  aj  the  .sphere  holds  all 
form.  He  works,  it  may  be  said,  after  the  pure  method  of 
Nature,  and  nothing  less;  and  includes  not  only  the  artist 
of  the  beautiful,  but  forestalls  *thc  preacher  and  the  moralist 
by  his  synthesis  and  kosmical  integrity. 


Dating  mainly  from  Wordsworth  and  his  school,  there  is 
in  modern  literature,  and  especially  in  current  poetry,  a 
great  deal  of  what  is  technically  called  Nature.  Indeed  it 
might  seem  that  this  subject  was  worn  threadbare  long  ago, 
and  that  something  else  was  needed.  The  word  Nature, 
now,  to  most  readers,  suggests  only  some  flower  bank,  or 
summer  cloud,  or  pretty  scene  that  appeals  to  the  sentiments. 
None  of  this  ia  in  Walt  Whitman.  And  it  is  because  he 
corrects  this  false,  artificial  Nature,  and  shows  me  the  real 
article,  that  I  hail  his  appearance  as  the  most  important 
literary  event  of  our  times. 


Wordsworth  was  truly  a  devout  and  loving  observer  of 
Nature,  and  perhaps  has  indicated  more  surely  than  any 
other  poet  the  healthful  moral  influence  of  the  milder 
aspects  of  rural  scenery.  But  to  have  spoken  in  the  full 
spirit  of  the  least  fact  which  he  describes  would  have  rent 
him  to  atoms.  To  have  accepted  Nature  in  her  entirety, 
as  the  absolutely  good  and  the  absolutely  beautiful,  would 
have  been  to  him  tantamount  to  moral  and  intellectual  de 
struction.  He  is  simply  a  rural  and  metaphysical  poet  whose 
subjects  arc  drawn  mostly  from  Nature,  instead  of  from  society, 
or  the  domain  of  romance;  and  he  tells  in  so  many  words 
what  he  sees  and  feels  in  the  presence  of  natural  objects. 
He  has  definite  aim,  like  a  preacher  or  moralist  as  he  was, 
and  his  effects  arc  nearer  akin  to  those  of  pretty  vases  and 
parlor  ornaments  than  to  trees  or  hills. 

In  Nature  everything  is  held  in  solution;  there  arc  no 
discriminations,  or  failures,  or  ends;  there  is  no  poetry  or 
philosophy — but  there  is  that  which  is  better,  and  which 
feeds  the  soul,  diffusing  itself  through  the  mind  in  calm  and 
equable  showers.  To  give  the  analogy  of  this  in  the  least 
degree  was  not  the  success  of  Wordsworth.  Neither  has 
it  been  the  success  of  any  of  the  so-called  poets  of  Nature 
since  his  time.  Admirable  as  many  of  these  poets  are  in 
some  respects,  they  arc  but  visiting-card  callers  upon  Nature, 
going  to  her  for  tropes  and  figures  only.  In  the  products 
of  the  lesser  fry  of  them  I  recognize  merely  a  small  toying 
with  Nature — a  kind  of  sentimental  flirtation  with  birds 
and  butterflies. 

I  am  aware,  also,  that  the  Germanic  literary  "storm  and 
stress  periods,"  during  the  latter  part  of  the  last  century, 
screamed  vehemently  for  "  Nature "  too ;  but  they  knew 


not  what  they  said.  The  applauded  works  of  that  period 
and  place  were  far  from  the  spirit  of  Nature,  which  is 
health,  not  disease. 


If  it  appears  that  I  am  devoting  my  pages  to  the  exclu 
sive  consideration  of  literature  from  the  point  of  view  of 
Nature  and  the  spirit  of  Nature,  it  is  not  because  I  am 
unaware  of  other  and  very  important  standards  and  points 
of  view.     But  these  others,  at  the  present  day,  need  no 
urging,  nor  even  a  statement  from  me.     Their  claims  arc 
not  only  acknowledged — they  tyrannize  out  of  all  propor 
tion.     The  standards  of  Nature  apply  just  as  much  to  what 
is  called  artificial  lite,  all  that  belongs  lo  cities  and  to  modern 
manufactures  and  machinery,  and  the  life  arising  out  of 
them.     Walt  Whitman's  poems,  though  entirely  gathered, 
as  it  were,  under  the  banner  of  the  Natural  Universal,  in 
clude,  for  themes,  as  has  been  already  stated,  all  modern 
artificial  combinations,  and  the  facts  of  machinery,  trades, 
&c.     These  are  an  essential   part  of  his  chants.      It   is, 
indeed,  all  the  more  indispensable  to  resume  and  apply  to 
these,  the  genuine  standards. 

Our  civilization  is  not  an  escape  from  Nature,  but  a  mas 
tery  over,  and  following  out  of,  Nature.  We  do  not  keep 
the  air  and  the  sunlight  out  of  our  houses,  but  only  the  rain 
and  the  cold ;  and  the  untamed  and  unrefined  elements  of 
the  earth  are  just  as  truly  the  sources  of  our  health  and 
strength  as  they  are  of  the  savages'.  In  speaking  of  Walt 
Whitman's  poetry,  I  do  not  mean  raw,  unreclaimed  Na 
ture.  I  mean  the  human  absorption  of  Nature  like  the 
earths  in  fruit  and  grain,  or  in  the  animal  economy.  The 

dominant  facts  of  his  poetry,  carried  out  strictly  and  inva 
riably  from  these  principles,  are  Life,  Love,  and  the  Im 
mortal  Identity  of  the  Soul.  Here  he  culminates,  and  here 
arc  the  regions  where,  in  all  his  themes,  after  treating  them, 
he  finally  ascends  with  them,  soaring  high  and  cleaving  the 




In  beauty  ornament,  or  is  it  an  inherency  ?  Is  it  an  out 
side  addition  and  polish,  or  docs  it  reside  in  the  fibre  and 
quality  of  things  themselves?  Would  our  search  for  beauty 
lead  us  to  regard  only  the  brilliancies,  the  flowers,  the 
accordant  sounds,  the  reflections  in  the  pond?  or  have  the 
rocks  and  the  weeds  a  part  to  play  also? 

In  ancient  mythology,  beauty  is  represented  as  riding  on 
the  back  of  a  lion  ;  meaning,  probably,  that  beauty  cannot 
be  enjoyed  alone — cannot  be  separated  from  power  or  even 
savage  necessity.  In  short,  that  it  is  linked  with  its  oppo 
site.  This  is  the  invariable  order  of  Nature. 

It  comes  to  me,  that  there  is  something  implied  or  under 
stood  when  we  look  upon  a  beautiful  object,  that  has  quite 
as  much  to  do  with  the  impression  made  upon  the  mind 
»«s  anything  in  the  object  itself;  perhaps  more.  There  is 
somehow  an  immense  and  undefined  background  of  vast  and 
unconscionable  energy,  as  of  earthquakes,  and  ocean  storms, 
and  cleft  mountains,  across  which  things  of  beauty  play, 
and  to  which  they  constantly  defer ;  and  when  this  back- 


pround  is  wanting,  as  it  ir,  in  mor.t  current  poetry,  beauty 
sickens  and  dies,  or  at  most  has  only  a  feeble  existence. 

Nature  docj  nothing  merely  for  beauty  ;  beauty  follows 
as  the  inevitable  result ;  and  the  iinprcsiion  of  total  health 
and  finish  which  her  works  make  upon  the  mind  is  ing 
as  much  to  those  things  which  are  not  technically  veiled 
beautiful,  as  to  those  which  arc.  The  former  give  identity 
to  the  latter.  The  one  is  to  the  other  what  substance  is  to 
form,  or  bone  to  flesh.  The  beauty  of  Nature  includes  all 
that  is  called  beautiful,  as  its  flower;  and  all  that  is  not 
called  beautiful,  as  its  stalk  and  roots. 

Indeed  when  I  go  to  the  woods  or  fields,  or  ascend  to 
the  hill-top,  I  do  not  seem  to  be  gazing  upon  beauty  at  all, 
but  to  be  breathing  it  like  the  air.  I  am  not  dazzled  or 
astonished ;  I  am  in  no  hurry  to  look,  lest  it  be  gone.  I 
would  not  have  the  litter  and  debris  removed,  or  the  banks 
trimmed,  or  the  ground  painted.  What  I  enjoy  is  commen 
surate  with  the  earth  and  sky  itself.  It  clings  to  the  rocks 
and  trees ;  it  is  kindred  to  the  roughness  and  savagery ;  it 
lurks  in  every  tangle  and  chasm ;  it  perches  on  the  dry  oak 
stubbs ;  the  fox  and  the  coon  give  it  out  as  they  pass ;  the 
crows  caw  it,  and  weave  it  into  their  nests  of  coarse  sticks; 
the  cattle  low  it,  and  every  mountain  path  leads  to  its 
haunts.  I  am  not  a  spectator  of,  but  a  participator  in  it. 
It  becomes  as  the  iron  and  lime  and  oxygen  in  my  blood 
and  bones.  It  is  not  an  adornment;  its  roots  strike  to  the 
centre  of  the  earth. 


After  fullest  experience,  one  surely  comes  to  feel  that  art, 
as  such,  is  death ;  and  that  only  that  invigorates  \vhich 
leaves  an  office  to  be  performed  by  the  eye  that  sees.  Such 


alone  stimulates  desire,  and  blends  with  the  mind.  The 
commonest  and  the  nearest  arc  at  last  the  most  acceptable. 
The  old  chamber  without  ceiling  or  plaster,  the  litter  of 
out-houses,  the  hut  in  the  woods,  tHc  rustic  bridge,  the 
farmer  with  his  team,  or  foddering  his  cattle  from  a  stack 
upon  the  new  snow — one  feels  that  it  is  from  such  that  he 
himself  came,  and  from  such,  after  all  due  acknowledgments 
to  books  and  to  civilization  have  been  made,  that  he  still 
draws  the  breath  of  life. 

•*  I  believe  a  leaf  of  grass  w  no  less  than  the  journey-work  of  the  stars, 
And  the  pismire  is  equally  perfect,  and  a  grain  of  sand,  and  the  e^g  of 

the  wren, 

And  the  tree-toad  is  a  chcf-d'iruvrc  for  the  highest, 
And  the  running  blackberry  would  adorn  the  parlors  of  heaven, 
And  the  narrowest  hinge  in  my  hand  puts  to  scorn  all  machinery, 
And  the  cow  crunching  with  deprcst  head  surpasses  any  statue, 
And  a  mouss  is  miracle  enough  to  stagger  sex  til  lions  of  infidel*, 
And  I  could  come  every  afternoon  of  my  life  to  look  at  the  farmer's 
girl  boiling  her  iron  tea-kettle  and  baking  short-cake." 


It  must  be  ever  present  to  the  true  artist  in  his  attempt 
to  report  Nature,  that  every  object  as  it  stands  in  the  sequence 
of  cause  and  effect  has  a  history  which  involves  its  surround 
ings,  and  that  the  depth  of  the  interest  which  it  awakens  in 
us  is  in  proportion  as  its  integrity  in  this  respect  is  preserved. 
In  Nature  we  are  prepared  for  any  opulence  of  color,  or 
vegetation,  or  freak  of  form,  or  display  of  any  kind,  by  the 
preponderance  of  the  common,  ever-present  features  of  the 
earth.  I  never  knew  how  beautiful  a  red-bird  was  till  I 
caw  one  darting  through  the  recesses  of  a  shaggy  old  hem 
lock  wood.  In  like  manner  the  bird  of  the  naturalist  can 


never  interest  us  like  the  thrush  the  farm  boy  heard  singing 
in  the  cedars  at  twilight  as  he  drove  the  cows  to  pasture, 
or  like  the  swallow  that  flew  gleefully  in  the  air.  above 
him  as  lie  picked  the  stones  from  the  early  May  meadow. 


The  current  poetry  of  the  day  is  an  attempt  to  give  us 
beauty  without  the  lion.  It  aims  at  great  surface  charm — 
possesses  the  merit  of  form,  of  color,  of  jewels,  of  perfume 
— but  has  none  of  the  charm  of  power  and  aboriginal  might, 
or  the  charm  shown  by  the  best  Greek  and  oldest  Asiatic 
bards,  which  is  above  all  color  and  sparkle,  and  upon  which 
these  things  wait  as  willing  slaves.  It  proceeds  on  the 
theory  that  beauty  is  a  dainty  discriminate,  something  to  be 
arrived  at  by  a  sifting,  clarifying  process ;  that  it  is  quite 
accidental,  residing  in  certain  things  and  not  in  others ;  that 
it  is  entirely  distinct  from  use  and  economy,  and  is  pecu 
liarly  the  province  of  poetry,  being  achieved  here  by  a 
lucky  combination  of  sweet,  picked  words  and  tropes,  etc. 
Hence,  on  opening  a  book  of  modern  poetry,  one  feels  like 
exclaiming,  Well,  here  is  the  beautiful  at  last,  divested  of 
everything  else — of  truth,  of  power,  of  economy ;  and  one 
may  add,  of  beauty  too. 

"  Labor  for  labor's  sake,"  says  Locke,  "  is  against  nature ;" 
and  beauty  sought  directly  as  beauty  is  the  spinal  weakness 
of  modern  verse.  Because  some  objects  are,  to  girls  and 
young  men,  more  obviously  beautiful  than  others,  and  attract 
common  beholders,  the  mind  which  has  not  yet  opened  to 
the  perception  of  law — of  that  which  makes  beautiful — 
jumps  to  the  conclusion  that  beauty  has  an  objective  exist 
ence,  and  that  to  collect  together  those  objects  of  Nature 


that  first  awaken  the  sentiment,  and  string  them  on  some 
thread  of  romance,  or  delicate  thought,  is*  the  secret  o! 
making  beautiful  poems! 

Woe  .to  that  poet,  musician,  or  any  artist,  who  disengages 
beauty  from   the  wide  background  of  rudeness,  darkness, 
and  strength — and  disengages  her  from  absolute  Nature !  The  • 
mild   and  beneficent  aspects  of  Nature — what  gulfs  and 
abysses  of  power  underlie  them !     The  great,  ugly,  barbaric 
earth — yet  the  summing  up,  the  plenum  of  all  we  know,  or 
can  know,  of  beauty !     So  the  orbic  poems  of  the  world 
have  a  foundation  as  of  the  earth  itself,  and  arc  beautiful 
because  they  are  something  else  first.     Homer  chose  for  his 
groundwork  War,  clinching,  tearing,  tugging  war;  in  Dante 
it  is  Hell;  in  Milton,  Satan  and  the  Fall;  in  Shakspeurc  it 
is  pride  and  diabolic  passion.     What   is   it   in  Tennyson? 
Soft  aristocratic  ennui  and  luxury,  and  love-sick  sentiment. 
The   dainty  poets,   "  the   eye    singers,   car   singers,   love 
singers,"  have  not  the  courage,  the  stamina,  to  accept  the 
gross  in  Nature  or  life ;  that  which  is  the  basis  of  all  else. 
Only  the  great  masters  accept  all.     It  is  this  which  gives 
genesis  io  their  works. 


Do  I  say,  then,  that  beauty  is  not  the  object  or  attribute 
of  LEAVES  OP  GRASS  ?  Not  directly  the  object,  but  indirectly. 
The  love  of  eternal  beauty  and  of  truth  move  the  author  to 
his  work,  producing  a  poem  without  a  single  piece  of  cm- 
broidery  or  hung-on  ornament,  yet  in  its  quality  and  propor 
tion  dominating,  in  this  very  attribute,  all  rivals. 

It  is  on  the  clear  eye,  the  firm  and  limber  step,  the 
sweet  breath,  the  loving  lip,  the  magnetism  of  sex,  the 


lofty  and  religious  soul,  eloquent  in  figure  as  in  face,  that 
Walt  Whitman  has  depended  for  beauty's  attractiveness  in 
hi*  poem*. 

He  U  by  no  means  insensible  to  what  is  called  the  poetic 
aspect  of  things;  only  he  uses  this  clement  sparingly;  and 
well  seasoned  with  the  salt  of  the  earth.  Where  others 
bring  a  flower  from  the  woods  or  a  shell  from  the  shore,  he 
brings  the  woods  and  the  shore  also,  so  that  his  charm  lies 
in  the  completed  integrity  of  his  statements. 

Of  a  long  account  of  a  battle  which  I  once  read  in  some 
old  Grecian  history  I  remember  only  the  fact,  casually 
mentioned  by  the  historian,  that  the  whereabouts  of  one 
army  was  betrayed  to  the  other  by  the  glint  of  the  moon, 
light  upon  the  shield  of  a  soldier  as  he  stood  orf  a  high  hill. 
The  touches  in  LEAVES  OF  GRASS  arc  of  like  significance, 
and  by  their  singleness  and  peculiarity  not  one  is  lest  to  the 

But  this  is  not  the  final  statement.  That  which  in  every 
instance  has  been  counted  the  defect  of  Walt  Whitman's 
writings,  namely,  that  they  are  not  markedly  poetical,  as 
that  term  is  used,  constitutes  their  transcendent  merit. 
Unlike  all  others,  this  poet's  words  seem  dressed  for  work, 
with  hands  and  arms  bare.  At  first  sight  they  appear  as 
careless  of  mere  beauty,  or  mere  art,  as  do  the  leaves  of  the 
forest  about  numbers,  or  the  snow-flakes  as  to  where  they 
shall  fall ;  yet  his  poems  do  more  to  the  mind,  for  this  very 
reason,  than  the  most  ostentatiously  elaborated  works. 
They  indicate  fresh  and  near  at  hand  the  exhaustless  sources 
of  beauty  and  art.  Comparatively  few  minds  are  impressed 
with  the  organic  beauty  of  the  world.  That  there  are  gleams 
and  touches  here  and  there  which  not  only  have  no  refer- 

,  5C> 

cnce  "  to  the  compact  truth  of  the  whole,**  but  which  are 
lucky  exceptions  to  the  general  rule,  and  which  it  is  the 
province  of  art  to  fix  and  perpetuate  in  color  or  form,  u  the 
notion  of  all  our  poets  and  poetlings.  Outside  of  LEAVES 
OK  GRASS  there  is  no  theory  or  practice  in  modern  letters 
that  keeps  in  view  the  principle  after  which  the  highest 
artists,  like  Michael  Angelo,  have  wrought,  namely,  %'iat  in 
the  unimpeachable  health  and  rectitude  and  latent  power 
of  the  world  are  to  be  found  the  true  sources  of  beauty  for 
purposes  of  Art. 

The  perception  of  such  high,  kosmical  beauty  comes  by 
a  vital  original  process  of  the  mind.  It  is  in  some  measure 
a  creative  act,  and  those  works  that  rest  upon  it  make  de 
mands — perhaps  extraordinary  demands — upon  the  reader 
or  beholder.  We  regard  mere  surface  glitter,  or  mere  verbal 
sweetness,  in  a  mood  entirely  passive,  and  with  a  pleasure 
entirely  profitless.  The  beauty  of  excellent  stage  scenery 
seems  much  more  obvious  and  easy  of  apprehension  than 
the  beauty  of  the  trees  und  hills  themselves,  inasmuch  as 
the  act  of  association  in  the  mind  is  easier  and  inferior  to 
the  act  of  original  perception. 

Only  the  greatest  works  in  any  department  afford  any 
explanation  of  this  wonder  we  call  Nature,  or  aid  the  mind 
in  arriving  at  correct  notions  concerning  it.  To  copy  here 
and  there  a  line  or  a  tint  is  no  explanation  ;  but  to  translate 
Nature  into  another  language — to  repeat,  in  some  sort,  the 
act  of  creation  itself — as  is  done  in  LEAVES  OF  GRASS,  is  the 
final  and  crowning  triumph  of  poetic  art. 




IT  has  been  mournfully  complained  that  specimens  of 
men  equal  to  the  towering  and  gigantic  Personalities  of 
ancient  days,  before  the  advent  of  general  science  and 
modern  inventions,  no  more  exist  among  us.  Walt  Whit 
man's  aim  evidently  is  to  produce  Personalities  not  merely 
as  full  as  those  of  the  primitive  times,  but  which  will  have, 
in  addition,  all  that  the  long  train  of  knowledge,  science, 
inventions  and  commerce,  have  accumulated  since,  and  which 
will  also  be  perfectly  adapted  to  modern  social  and  municipal 

LEAVES  op  GRASS,  in  fact,  proceed  upon  the  theory 
that,  whether  she  knows  it  or  not,  America  has  staked  her 
success  upon  the  excellence  of  the  average  individual,  and 
that  the  thing  she  needs  to  cultivate  and  to  value  above  all  other 
values  is  a  strong  and  fully-equipped  Personality.  Culture, 
social  conventions,  luxuries,  the  multiplication  of  appliances 
for  making  people  comfortable  and  easy,  and  for  rendering 
feet  and  hands  superfluous,  tend  to  break  up  and  diffuse 

.     58 

capacity,  and  lead  to  decay  in  the  qualities  of  rude  endurance 
and  grand  primary  idiosyncracics.  Hence  this  poem,  bring 
ing  what  we  most  need,  is  flooded  and  charged  with  all  the 
valor,  spirit,  and  wholesomcncss  begotten  by  the  hardier 

Indeed  I  doubt  if  the  literature  of  any  nation  has  a  book 
that  confronts  the  reader  with  a  personality  so  pervasive 
and  full  as  that  in  LEAVES  OP  GRASS.     It  becomes  more  and 
more  apparent  as  we  peruse  its  pages,  that  this  is  the  enclos 
ing  purport  of  all.     It  is  himself  finally  in  the  integrity  of 
his  entire  Being,  that  the  author  gives  us.     Books  hereto 
fore  that  have  aspired  to  the  expression  of  great  truths 
have  been  more  intellectual  than  Nature  will  bear — have 
expressed  that  which  makes  the  scholar,  the  thinker,  the 
artist,  the  priest,  etc.,  divorced  from  that  which  makes  the 
Man — so  that  the  works  of  all   old  and  highly-civilized 
nations  are  usually  a  collection  of  theories  or  systems  or 
metaphysical   speculations,  and  for  any  vital   characteristic 
touches,  we  are  obliged  to  go  back  to  their  early  ballads, 
before  the  advent  of  science  and  general  knowledge.     Now 
LEAVES  OF  GRASS  expresses  the  intellect,  but  it  does  not 
stop  here  ;  it  goes  as  high  as  the  highest ;  then  it  expresses 
what  none  other  does,  the  body,  sex,  health,  personal  mag- 
netism ;  in  short  the  vittl  physiological  fusion  and  knitting 
together  of  all  the  elements  that  make  a  fully  endowed  per 
sonality.     It  is  perfectly  true  that  to  the  careless  observer 
it  seems  to  fall  below  the  standard  of  the  polite  and  learned 
authors,  by  expressing  not  the  scholar  or  the  artist  or  the 
prutWional  litterateur  merely,  but   the  veritable  Adjmic 
Man  as  he  stands  immersed  in  realities,  and  as  he  goes  forth 
to  conquer  and  populate  and  possess  the  earth. 


•''I'M.  i»  the  poem  of  uccup  ttioiM ) 
In  the  Lln.r  !•»'  en  vino-  anJ  trade  j,  and  the  labor  of  fields,  I  find  ilie 

And  find  the  eternal  meanings. 

Workmen  and  workwomen  t 

Were  all  educations,  practical  and  ornamental,  well  displayed  out  of 

m?,  what  would  it  amount  to? 
Were  I  a»  the  head  teacher,  chariiable  proprietor,  wise  statesman,  what 

wuuld  it  amount  to? 
Were  I  to  you  as  the  boss  employing  and  paying  you,  would  that  satisfy 


The  learn'd,  virtuou*,  benevolent,  and  the  usual  tcrmsj 
A  man  like  me,  nnd  never  the  usual  terms. 

Neither  a  servant  nor  a  master  am  I ; 

I  take  no  sooner  a  large  price  than  a  small  price — I  will  have  my  own, 

whoever  enjoys  mej 
I  will  be  even  with  you,  and  you  shall  be  even  with  me." 

It  i*t  of  course,  never  the  conventional  man  of  to-day  for 
whom  he  speaks.  He  has  rejected  the  conventional  man 
of  to-day  as  ctFctc;  has  ignored  his  ennuyed  and  foppish 
modes,  and  sowed  broadcast  a  "  new  gladness  and  rough 
ness."  How  the  following  passages  contrast  with  the  con 
fectionery  of  the  popular  poets : 

"O  lands !  would  you  be  freer  than  all  that  has  ever  been  before? 
If  you  would  be  freer  than  all  that  has  been  before,  come  listen  to  me. 

Fear  grace — Fear  dclicatcssc ! 

Fear  the  mellow  sweet,  the  sucking  of  honey-juice  j 

lie w.i re  the  jj valuing  ripening  of  nature ! 

ikwarc  what  precedes  the  decay  of  the  ru^gcdnes*  of  &Utes  and  uen." 

And  in  the  like  strain: 


"Listen!  1  will  he  honest  with  you) 

1  do  not  offer  the  old  •  mouth  prizes,  but  offer  rough  new  pme»  j 
The»e  are  the  days  that  must  happen  to  you  t 

You  shall  not  heap  up  what  ii  called  riches, 

You  shall  scatter  with  lavish  hand  all  that  you  earn  or  achieve, 

You  but  arrive  at  the  city  to  which  you  were  destined— you  hardly 
settle  yourself  to  satisfaction,  before  you  are  call'd  by  an  irre 
sistible  call  to  depart  \ 

You  shall  be  treated  to  the  ironical  smiles  and  mocking*  of  those  who 
remain  behind  you| 

What  beckonings  of  love  you  receive,  you  shall  only  answer  with  pas 
sionate  kisses  of  parting. 

You  shall  not  a'low  the  hold  of  those  who  spread  their  reach'd  hands 
toward  you." 

And  in  another  place : 

"Long  enough  have  you  dream'd  contemptible  dreams) 
Now  I  wath  the  gum  from  your  eyes) 

You  must  habit  yourself  to  the  dazzle  of  the  light,  and  of  every  moment 
of  your  life. 

Long  have  you  timidly  w.n!rd,  holding  •  pUnk  by  tha  shore) 
Now  I  w'lll  you  to  be  a  bold  swimmer, 

To  jump  olf  in  the  midit  of  the  sea,  rise  again,  nod  to  me,  shout,  and 
laughingly  dash  with  your  hair." 

And,  after  a  different  figure: 

M I  tramp  a  perpetual  journey— (come  listen  all !) 
My  signs  arc  a  rain-proof  coat,  good  shoes,  and  a  staff  cut  from  the 

woods ; 

No  friend  of  mine  takes  his  case  in  my  chair) 
J  have  no  chair,  no  church,  no  philosophy) 
I  lead  no  nun  to  a  dinner-table,  library,  or  exchange) 
liut  each  man  and  each  woman  of  you  1  lead  upon  a  knoll, 
My  left  hand  hooking  you  round  the  waist, 

My  tijit  hand  pointing  to  Unduapcs  of  continents,  and  a  plain  public 


And  tliis  jubilant  hurst: 

"O  the  y>y  of  a  manly  self-hood! 
Personality — to  be  cervile  to  none — to  defer  to  none — not  to  any  tyrant, 

known  or  unknown, 

To  walk  with  erect  carriage,  a  step  springy  and  elastic, 
To  look  with  calm  ga/c,  or  with  a  flashing  eye, 
To  speak  with  a  full  and  sonorous  voice,  out  of  a  broad  chest, 
To  confront  with  your  personality  all  the  other  personalities  of  the 


The  lines  To  a  Pttpif  are  in  the  same  key: 

44  Is  reform  needed?     Is  it  through  you? 

The  greater  the  reform  needed,  the  greater  the  PERSONALITY  you  need 
to  accomplish  it. 

Vou !  do  you  not  see  how  it  would  serve  to  have  eyes,  blood,  complexion, 
clean  and  sweet? 

Do  you  not  sec  how  it  would  serve  to  have  such  a  Body  and  Soul,  that 
when  you  enter  the  crowd,  an  atmosphere  of  desire  and  com 
mand  enters  with  you,  and  every  one  is  imprcss'd  with  your 
personality  ? 

O  the  magnet !  the  flesh  over  and  over ! 

Go,  dear  friend!  if  need  be,  give  up  all  else,  and  commence  to-day  to 
inure  yourself  to  pluck,  reality,  self-esteem,  detiniceness,  ele 
vated  ness  j 

Rest  not,  till  you  rivet  and  publish  yourself  of  your  own  personality.** 


The  theory  of  the  book  implies  plenty  of  time,  and  abso 
lute  unconstraint.  "It  has,"  says  a  European  scholar,  "an 
immense  sense  of  space." 

The  centre  of  its  standards,  or  the  region  where  it  is  to 
be  proved  and  justified,  is  perhaps  the  West — the  valley  of 
the  Mississippi  and  ilic  Pacific  slopes.  It  anticipates  the 
unfolding  of  the  country  in  that  direction.  Few  people 


think  how  fast  the  theatre  of  our  national  history  is  being 
transferred  from  the  Atlantic  seaboard  to  the  valley  of  the 
Mississippi,  and  beyond ;  and  how  surely  the  foreign  forms, 
both  in  literature  and  manners,  of  our  seaport  towns,  will 
fail  to  meet  the  demands  of  inland  America.  And  it  is 
with  his  eye  upon  the  West,  and  in  the  spirit  of  our  resistless 
onward  movement,  that  Walt  Whitman  has  written.  He 
•ccks  to  beget  and  lead  forward  the  greatness  which  he  cel 
ebrates.  His  poetry,  therefore,  is  not  a  reminiscence,  or  a 
closing  up  of  an  era  or  race,  as  Shakspcare  is,  but  is  a 
prophecy,  and  has  unbounded  vista. 

Especially  is  this  true  of  the  august  character  and  mission 
it  ascribes  to  the  poet,  and  which  find  no  echo  or  type 
amid  the  rhymesters  of  the  present  day,  cither  here  or  in 
Europe.  Whether  or  not  its  daring  vaticinations  will  be 
fulfilled — whether  or  not  a  new  race  of  bards,  "native, 
athletic,  continental,"  will  ever  appear  in  the  United  States, 
time  alone  can  show.  This  author  seems  to  sec  beneath 
the  prevailing  cheapness  and  simulation,  agencies  at  work 
which  must  inevitably  lead  to  his  fulfilments.  He  himself 
claims  only  to  have  spoken  the  awakening  word,  to  have 
given  the  seminal  impulse. 

In  the  SONGS  BEFORE  PARTING,  he  frees  himself  upon  the 
subject.  They  open  thus: 

«A«  I  sat  alone,  by  blue  Ontario's  shore, 
As  I  mused  of  these  mighty  days,  and  of  peace  return'd,  and  the  dead 

that  return  no  more, 

A  Phantom,  gigantic,  superb,  with  stern  .visage,  accosted  mej 
Chant  me  a  poem,  it  said,  of  the  ran^e  of  the  h'^h  Soul  of  l>oen, 
And  chant  of  the  ivtkomc  bardt  that  breathe  but  my  native  air — 

thou  bards  f 
And  chant  me,  before  you  go,  the  Song  of  the  throei  of  Democracy. 


He  then  proceeds  to  dilate  with  tremendous  power  upon 
Democracy,  Nativity,  and  Individuality,  putting  terrible 
questions  to  contemporary  singers,  and  outlining  a  poet  fit 
for  these  Lands  and  Days. 

"Rhymes  and  rhymer*  pass  away — poems  dbtiU'd  from  other  poems  pass 

The  swarms  of  reflectors  and  the  polite  pass,  and  leave  ashes; 

Admirers,  importers,  obedient  persons,  make  but  the  soil  of  literature; 

America  justifies  itself,  give  it  time — no  disguise  can  deceive  it,  or  con 
ceal  from  it — it  is  impassive  enough, 

Only  toward  the  likes  of  itself  will  it  advance  to  meet  them, 

If  its  poets  appear,  it  will  in  due  time  advance  to  meet  them— there  is 
no  fear  of  mistake, 

(The  proof  of  a  poet  shall  be  sternly  dcferr'd,  till  his  country  absorbs 
him  as  affectionately  as  he  has  absorbed  it.)" 

The  conclusion  of  this  piece  I  give  entire: 

"Thus,  by  blue  Ontario's  shore, 

While  the  winds  fann'd  me,  and  the  waves  came  trooping  toward  me, 
1  sant'  with  the  Power's  pulsations — and  the  charm  of  my  theme  was 

upon  me, 
Till  the  tissues  that  held  me  parted  their  ties  upon  me. 

And  I  saw  the  free  Soul  of  poets; 

The  loftiest  bards  of  past  ages  strode  before  me, 

Strange,  large  men,  long  unknown,  undisclosed,  were  disclosed  to  me. 

O  my  rapt  song,  my  charm — mock  me  not! 

Not  for  the  bards  of  the  past — not  to  invoke  them  have  I  launched  you 


Not  to  call  even  those  lofty  bards  here  by  Ontario's  shores, 
Have  I  sun£,  so  capricious  and  loud,  my  savage  song. 

But,  O  strong  soul  of  Poets, 

Bards  for  my  own  land,  ere  I  go,  I  invoke. 


You  Bards  grind  M  these  dap  ao  grand! 
Bard*  of  the  Great  Idea!     Bards  of  the  wondrous  inventions ! 
Bards  of  the  marching  armies — a  million  soldiers  waiting  ever-ready, 
Bards  towering  like  hilis — (no  more  these  dots,  these  pigmies,  these 

little  piping  straws,  these  gnats,  that  fill  the  hour,  to  pass  for 

poets  j) 

Bards  with  songs  as  from  burning  coals, or  the  lightning's  fork*d  stripes! 
Ample  Ohio's  bards — bards  for  California!  inland  bards; 
Bards  of  pride!  Bards  tallying  the  ocean's  roar,  and  the  swooping  eagle's 

You,  by  my  charm,  I  invoke!" 




A  SIGNAL  service  LEAVES  OF  GRASS  is  to  render  the  literary 
world  will  be  the  production,  for  the  future  benefit  of 
America,  of  a  noble  school  of  Criticism.  While  the  book 
itself  is  purely  a  poem,  with  nothing  didactic,  it  yet  aids 
toward  that  result  more  than  tomes  of  essays  and  arguments. 
Its  presentation  of  the  difference  between  the  mere  verbal 
singer  and  the  full  poet,  (see  The  Indications^)  a  difference 
which  is  entirely  lost  sight  of  in  our  day,  is  invaluable.  Its 
very  atmosphere  is  liberating,  and  its  largeness  and  generosity 
must  tell  even  upon  the  narrowest  minded  routinist.  Thrice 
blessed  its  effect  here !  and  may  it  hasten  and  speed  forward ! 
Probably  never  again  can  the  land  more  need  genuine  and 
full-grown  critics  than  it  needs  them  during  the  present 
stages  of  its  development.  With  all  the  matchless  geo 
graphical  area  of  America,  her  smartness,  her  prowess  in 
war,  her  schools,  her  material  products,  incomparable 
worldly  wealth,  etc.,  her  condition  of  aesthetic  perception, 
and  original  products  therefrom,  in  books  or  art,  is  appalling ! 
The  same  in  her  "society,"  so-called.  Theoretically  we 


ought  to  show  only  "great  personalities;"  hut  the  circles 
alluded  to  exhibit  but  an  average  of  the  meagre  and  the 
mean.     We  have  the  worst  manners  in  the  world,  the  vul- 
garcst  ideas  of  beauty,  and  the  flunkicst  literature.     It  would 
seem  as  if  America,  from  some  unaccountable  cause,  has 
planted  or  allowed  her  least  manly  and  least  spiritual  speci 
mens   on   the   current   literary  and  eminent  social   posts. 
Nothing  but  a  new  race  of  intellectual  American  law-givers, 
of  a  type  at  present  undreamed  of,  will  redeem  this  condi 
tion,  establish  a  noble  standard  of  manners,  and  habilitate  a 
literature  ascending  to  the  expression  of  life,  and  things, 
and  man,  and  not  remaining  as  now,  the  mere  expression  of 
literature  itself — and  mainly  fossil  and  foreign  literature  too. 
[Yet  there  arc  exceptions.     The   lofty  snd  venerable 
name  of  Emerson — his  genius,  modern,  yet  blending  with 
the  purest  antique,  and  ever  dear  to  American  young  men 
— is  secure  of  its  perennial  crown  of  verdure  and  flowers. 

Then  in  our  daily  newspapers,  with  all  their  faults,  there 
is  ground  for  highest  commendation. 

Then,  also,  the  fact  that  everything  in  America  is  great, 
except  her  literature,  may  stand  as  her  most  available  excuse. 
America  is  hitherto  busied  with  other  things,  and  is  content 
with  the  literature  which  will  feed  the  common  moral 
stomach  as  the  butcher  and  baker  feed  the  physical.] 


In  the  matter  of  the  free  "  notices,"  mostly  from  a  cer 
tain  little  class,  or  quintette,  of  writers  and  poetlings,  who 
never  lose  an  .pportunity  to  misrepresent  and  slander 
LEAVES  OF  GRASS  and  its  author,  and  who,  from  possessing 
access  to  the  "  literary  organs,"  have  caused  a  very  deccp- 


tivc  appearance  of  general  condemnatory  judgment,  I  ought 
probably  to  imitate  the  example  of  Mr.  Whitman  himself, 
who  has  never  once,  in  his  whole  life,  deigned  to  make  the 
least  reply  to  any  of  them.  Making  the  most  of  this  impu 
nity  flowing  from  contempt,  and  every  now  and  then  taking 
some  new  accession  to  their  number,  the  members  of  this 
little  class  have  actively  pursued  their  work,  by  wrenching 
the  text,  by  open  lie,  and  by  covert  inuendo;  have  con 
tinued  at  it  for  the  past  ten  years,  and  arc  at  it  still.  (See 
A;.  A.  Review,  January,  1867.) 

J  have  heard  Mr.  Whitman  himself  laughingly  defend 
them,  as  proving  to  its  utmost  the  theory  of  freedom  in 
expression  on  men  and  works,  and  declare  that  it  is  a  pro 
vision  of  Nature  to  test  the  strength  of  new,  pretensive 
authors.  I  should,  however,  apply  to  it  that  other  kind  of 
judgment,  in  which  Carlyle,  (Frederick,  Book  14,)  speaking 
of  "  that  Anarchic  Republic  called  of  Letters,"  and  certainly 
with  reference  to  some  of  this  same  kind  of  its  members, 
says,  *'  When  your  lowest  blockhead  and  scoundrel  (usually 
one  entity")  shall  have  perfect  freedom  to  spit  in  the  face 
of  your  highest  sage  and  hero,  what  a  remarkably  free  world 

we  shall  be!" 



Again,  and  stronger  than  before,  I  assert,  before  closing, 
the  theory  that  the  standard  by  which  to  measure  the  work 
of  a  poet  of  the  very  first  class,  is  neither  the  standard  of 
the  parlor,  of  society,  nor  even  of  aesthetics  or  erudition,  but 
the  standard  of  the  actual  WORLD,  with  humanity  as  its 
choicest  fruition. 

Man  is  the  crowning  product  of  God,  of  Nature,  because 


in  him  all  that  preceded,  and  all  that  exists  in  objective 
Nature  is  resumed.  He  comprehends  all,  and  in  him  what 
was  elsewhere  unconscious  becomes  conscious;  what  was 
physical  becomes  moral.  He  is  a  living  proof  every 
single  atom  of  dust  is  capable  of  vital  life  and  divine  aspira 
tion.  Without  him  Nature,  though  living,  is  dead.  He 
vivifies  it,  blends  it,  as  the  body  blends  with  and  becomes 
dear  to  the  soul.  He  only,  finally,  //  Nature  entire.  Who 
sjiall  isolate  him — who  discriminate — setting  him  in  one 
place,  and  the  things  of  the  earth  far  apart  in  another 
place  ? 

That  which  arises  out  of  this,  as  a  logical  statement, 
Walt  Whitman,  without  once  making  the  least  bit  of  a 
logical  statement,  contains,  like  some  fine  quality  of  climate, 
or  flavor  of  perfect  fruit,  all  through  his  book.  Man, 
indeed,  is  Nature.  Not  for  materialism ;  not  for  pantheism. 
Let  no  wretched,  hasty,  sectarian  reader  go  off  in  a  huff 
with  premature  judgment.  The  Spirituality  of  Walt  Whit 
man,  in  perfect  accordance  with  the  principle  I  have  been 
treating,  is  the  most  absolute  yet  known.  The  flights,  the 
demands  of  the  ordinary  sects  and  creeds,  to  him  are  pitiful 
and  mean.  Inflated  with  the  tremendous  destinies  and  im 
mortality  of  man,  his  pages  swell  and  roll  with  religious 
emotion  like  ocean's  waves.  He  finds,  anywhere  and  now, 
men  that  dwarf  all  mythologies.  He  tests  the  works  of 
Madonnas  and  Christs  in  his  daily  walk  and  observations. 


Of  the  form  of  Walt  Whitman's  verse,  except  so  far  as 
it  is  connected  with  the  general  purpose  of  the  book,  dis 
cussed  in  another  place,  I  have  yet  said  nothing.  Coming 


from  the  dulcet  metres  of  Tennyson  to  the  irregular  and 
long-returning  rhythm  of  LEAVES  OP  GRASS  may  well  £ uzzlc 
any  current  reader.  Yet  the  sentences  here  are  always 
poised  and  well  timed;  never  slovenly,  never  loose,  but 
give  a  sense  of  the  utmost  firmness,  with  the  least  possible 
limitation  or  constraint.  There  is  often  a  flowing  grace 
and  incvitablencss  about  them,  fading  gradually  away  and 
atar  off,  like  the  lines  of  the  horizon.  It  is  not  the  form 
of  architecture,  or  of  any  exact  diagrams,  but  the  tally  of 
trees,  hills  paths,  etc.,  or  the  cadence  of  winds,  or  the 
rhythm  of  waves  on  a  beach. 

In  the  grand  literary  relics  of  nations  it  may  be  observed 
that  their  best  poetry  has  always  spurned  the  routine  poetic, 
and  adopted  essentially  the  prose  form,  preserving  interior 
rhythm  only.  But  it  is  to  the  future  I  leave  the  vast  ques 
tion  of  the  form  of  these  poems. 

["  In  literature  the  ascendancy  of  prose  is  always  in  direct 
ratio  to  the  advance  of  the  human  spirit,  and  the  clearing 
up  of  the  intelligence.  As  a  vehicle  for  the  movement  of 
ideas,  it  is  far  more  adequate  than  poetry,  and  is  therefore 
a  better  exponent  of  modern  civilization.  Substantially,  the 
barriers  between  these  two  are  already  broken  down,  so 
that  the  terms  poetry  and  prose  no  longer  represent  distinct 
circles  of  thought  and  emotion ;  they  also  become  assimilated 
in  form  and  grammar  in  proportion  as  the  sensuous  life  of 
language  dies  out,  and  the  spiritual  qualities  predominate. 
Thus  one  of  the  most  marked  peculiarities  of  modern  lan 
guages  is  what  might  be  called  their  prose  organization — i. 
e.,  their  prosody  or  metrical  system  is  founded,  not  on 
quantity,  but  on  accentuation,  so  that  by  this  change  the 
chief  distinction  between  oratio  vincta  and  oratio  solute,  as 


understood  by  the  ancients,  is  lost ;  and  we  may  confidently 
look  forward  to  the  time  when  the  fusion  of  these  forms 
shall  be  rendered  more  complete  by  the  abolition  of  that 
'bondage  of  rhyming*  which  Milton  condemns  as  'the  in 
vention  of  a  barbarous  age/  and  Ben  Jonson  characterises  as 
4  wresting  words  from  their  true  calling.'    There  is  no  good 
reason  why  the  relative  duration  of  successive  syllables  in 
time  should  have  been  insisted  on  as  essential  to  poetry ; 
for  we  might  with  equal  propriety  follow  the  example  of 
Simmias  of  Rhodes,  and  establish  a  canon  that  the  lines 
should  be  of  such  length,  and  so  arranged,  that  the  finished 
poem  would.prescnt  to  the  eye  the  form  of  a  heart,  a  battle- 
axe,  an  egg,  *  flute,  or  a  phcenix.     But  the  constant  ten 
dency  in  human  speech  is  to  shake  off  these  conventional 
shackles,  in  proportion  as  it  frees  itself  from  the  dominion 
of  the  senses,  and  becomes  an  organ  of  revelation  for  the 
higher  reflective  faculties.     The  spiritualising  and  enfran 
chising  influence  of  Christianity  transformed  Greek  into  an 
accentuated  language;  and  Grimm  has  shown  that  the  same 
process  took  place  also  in  German,  which  originally  made 
quantity,  or  the  temporal  value  of  the  vowels,  the  basis  of  its 
prosodical   system." — ERNST  VON    LASAULX.     Art.  in  N. 
A.  Rfv.-] 


.  I  must  not  forget  to  note  the  continuously  sustained  at 
titude  of  LEAVES  OP  GRASS  towards  demonstrable  science. 
It  always  fully  and  reverently  acknowledges  science,  and 
the  work  of  the  scientist. 


"Thither,  as  I  look,  I  see  each  result  and  glory  retracing  itself  and  nest 
ling  close,  always  obligated; 


Thither  hours,  months,  years — thithrr  trades,  compact?,  establishments, 

even  the  most  minute; 

Thither  c very-day  life,  speech,  utensils,  politics,  persons,  estates; 
Thither  we  also,  I  with  my  leaves  and  songs,  trustful,  admirant, 
As  a  father,  to  his  father  going,  takes  his  children  along  with  him.** 

Also  these  verses  from  his  leading  poem : 

"I  accept  reality,  and  dare  not  question  itj 
Materialism  first  and  last  imbuing. 

Hurrah  for  positive  science!  long  live  exact  demonstration! 

Fetch  stonccrop  mixt  with  cedar  and  branches  of  lilac; 

This  is  the  lexicographer — thu  the  chemist — this  made  a  grammar  of 

the  old  cartouches; 

These  mariners  put  the  ship  through  dangerous  unknown  seas ; 
This   is   the   geologist — this  works  with   the   scalpel — and  this  is  a 


Gentlemen !  to  you  the  first  honors  always : 

Your  facts  are  useful  and  real — and  yet  they  arc  not  my  dwelling; 

(I  but  enter  by  them  to  an  area  of  my  dwelling.)** 


The  poet  himself,  I  understand,  considers  his  work  as 
still  lacking  in  a  part,  or  pieces,  specially  expressive  of 
the  religious  aspirational  elements,  and,  I  believe,  entertains 
the  wish  and  design  yet  to  write  out  such  a  part,  or  cluster 
of  pieces,  and  thus  complete  his  programme.  Of  course  I 
do  not  object  to  this ;  I  should  heartily  welcome  the  new 
pieces.  Yet  I  do  not  see  the  need  of  them,  in  order  to 
complete  LEAVES  OF  GRASS.  Because,  for  the  proper  use 
of  the  religious  elements  in  the  traits  of  a  character,  namely, 
to  leaven  all  the  rest,  and  tinge  the  acts  and  speech,  and  the 
days  of  life— and  not  for  a  separate  and  isolated  thing,  pro- 

,      72 

roulged  by  itself— I  find  this  by  far  the  most  religious  book 
I  ever  met.  It  is  the  broad  hymn  of  the  praise  of  things ; 
all  the  works  of  the  Creative  Father  are  sung  in  joyous 
strains.  An  undercurrent  of  entire  piety,  sometimes  buoy 
ant  and  credulous  as  a  child's,  sometimes  rapt  as  any  psalrr* 
of  the  Hebrew  prophets;  and  sometimes  showing  the  atti 
tude  of  science,  in  the  midst  of  its  explorations  and  attain 
ments,  bowed  down  before  the  awfulncss  and  impcnctraMe- 
ness  of  the  least  fact,  the  least  *aw,  of  the  universe,  runs 
through  the  poems,  and  never  fla^s.  Sec  verses  26  to  32, 
inclusive,  in  Starting  from  Fisb-Sbape  Paumunok;  also  verses 
5,  6,  and  7,  in  Elemental  Drifts. 

The  book  is  eminently  religious,  because  its  distinctive 
trait  is  Humanity.  When  I  realize  the  abysses  of  passionate 
love,  and  the  many  silent  throes  of  brooding  aspiration  that 
underlie  it,  and  out  of  which  only  it  could  have  been 
written,  I  am  inexpressibly  awed  before  the  thing,  a  human 
being,  a  Soul;  and  the  capacity  of  literature  to  express  that 
eternal  marvel  assumes  in  it  new  proportions. 


Of  the  future  reception  of  the  poem  I  feel  no  doubt.  At 
present  Walt  Whitman,  from  his  novelty  alone,  with  his 
unprecedented  vastness,  his  scorn  of  extrinsic  ornament, 
etc.,  cannot  be  measured,  cannot  well  be  understood.  He 
stretches  into  the  future  as  other  writers  into  the  past,  and 
is  the  most  self-denying  artist  to  the  claims  of  immediate 
results  and  approbation  that  ever  lived.  A  large  portion 
of  his  poetry  is  made  with  reference  to  its  effects  upon  his 
readers  long  after  his  own  death. 

With  him  arc,  however,  the  main  tendencies  of  our  era, 


and  they  must  in  due  time  justify  him.  At  the  present 
hour  he  has  a  limited  circle  of  fervently  appreciative  readers. 
In  a  decade  they  will  be  counted  by  thousands;  and  in  still 
another,  a  newer,  younger  race,  growing  up>  will,  as  it  were, 
be  born  to  him. 

Then  will  be  formed,  as  time  advances,  sufficient  vista 
through  which  only  this,  or  any  grand  work,  can  to  advan 
tage  be  .seen.  Then,  Mirrounded  by  the  associations  of 
the  |>ast,  U*  history,  of  a  hero,  a  bard,  become  long 
since  dead,  will  his  most  important  maining*  take  their 
application.  Then,  in  its  effect  on  many  a  rapt  brain, 
absorbing  for  example,  the  141)1,  1 5th,  and  i6th  atanzas'of 
$o  Lwtft  will  the  poem's  true  power  appear: 

"Thii  U  no  buck) 
Who  touches  tlii«,  touches  ft  man." 

Like  Egypt's  lord,  he  builds  against  his  form's  annihila 
tion.  But  what  ore  pyramids  compared  to  one  genuine 
throb  of  the  passionate  human  soul?  Fixed  in  the  desert 
(if  old  Africa,  the  voiceless  blocks  yet  stand,  after  six  thou 
sand  yearn,  mocking,  discarding  him  who  piled  them*  But 
her:  a  vaster,  subtler,  more  enduring  mausoleum.  Here, 
though  dead,  volition,  speech,  the  same. 

Strange  immortality  I  For  in  this  book  Walt  Whitman, 
even  in  his  habit  as  he  lived,  and  ever  gathering  hearts  of 
young  and  old,  is  to  surely  walk,  untouched  by  death,  down 
through  the  long  succession  of  all  the  future  ages  of  America. 




WALT  WHITMAN  was  born  in  the  farm  village  of  West 
Hills,  on  Long  Island,  New  York,  May  31,  1819.  His 
father's  stock,  which  was  of  English  immigration,  seems  to 
have  originally  settled  there  with  the  earliest  planting  of 
the  island,  some  four  or  five  generations  previously. 

West  Hills  is  about  thirty  miles  from  New  York  city. 
It  is  a  secluded  place,  of  much  natural  picturesqucncss. 
The  hills  indicated  by  its  name  are  varied  with  fertile  val 
leys.  It  is  a  neighborhood  of  thinly  scattered  country 
houses,  with  apple  orchards,  fields  of  grass  and  grain,  and 
winding  lanes  lined  with  locust  trees.  Great  springs  of 
cold,  sweet  water  curiously  rise  toward  the  tops  of  the  hills, 
and  their  course  down  and  along  the  lower  grounds  may  be 
traced  by  the  borders  of  extra  richness  and  verdure. 

Some  two  or  three  miles  off,  near  Cold  Spring,  Queen's 
county,  from  a  farm-house  on  the  side  of  another  hill,  a 
wild,  romantic,  and  bleaker  region,  we  find  the  mateinal 
source.  Here  lived  the  Van  Velsors,  of  genuine  Hollandic 
blood,  and  also  an  old  family.  Major  Van  Velsor  had  for 
his  wife  Amy  Williams,  descended  from  a  race  of  mariners; 
her  father  and  brothers,  and  grandfather's  people  too,  all 
famous  seagoing  folk.  From  this  couple  came  the  mother 


of  our  poet.  The  Van  Vclsors  were  noted  people  for 
horses.  The  Major  always  had  a  fine  one,  and  his  boys 
followed  suit;  and  the  poet's  future  mother  was  a  daily 
and  daring  horse-rider,  even  as  a  girl. 

A  description  of  these  two  families,  and  their  domestic 
interiors,  would  be  a  sample  of  the  life  of  the  middle  class 
of  American  country  people  of  three  generations  since,  in 
the  early  part  of  the  century.  Both  sexes  labored  with 
their  own  hands.  The  Whitmans  lived  in  a  long  story- 
and-a-half  farm-house,  hugely  timbered,  which  is  still  stand 
ing.  A  great  smoke-canopied  kitchen,  with  vast  hearth 
•ml  chimney,  formed  one  end  of  the  house.  The  existence 
of  slavery  in  New  York  nt  that  time,  nnd  the  possession  by 
the  family  of  some  twelve  or  fifteen  slaves,  house  and  field 
servants,  gave  things  quite  a  patriarchal  look.  The  very 
young  darkies  could  be  seen,  a  swarm  of  them,  toward 
sundown,  in  this  kitchen,  squatted  in  a  circle  on  the  floor, 
eating  their  supper  of  Indian  pudding  and  milk.  In  the 
house,  and  in  food  and  furniture,  all  was  rude,  but  substan 
tial.  No  carpets  nor  stoves  were  known,  and  no  coffee, 
and  tea  or  sugar  only  for  the  women.  Rousing  wood  fires 
gave  both  warmth  and  light  on  winter  nights.  Pork, 
poultry,  beef,  and  all  the  ordinary  vegetables  and  grains 
were  plentiful.  Cider  was  the  men's  common  drink,  and 
used  at  meals.  The  clothes  were  mainly  homespun. 
Journeys  were  made  by  both  men  and  women  on  horse 
back.  Books  were  scarce.  The  annual  copy  of  the 
Almanac  was  a  treat,  and  was  pored  over  throvgh  the 
long  winter  evenings. 

I  must  not  forget  to  mention  thnt  both  these  families 
were  near  enough  to  the  sea  to  behold  it  from  the  high 


places,  and  to  hear  in  still  hours  the  roar  of  the  surf;  the 
latter,  after  a  storm,  giving  a  peculiar  sound  at  night. 
Then  all  hands,  male  and  female,  went  down  frequently  on 
beach  and  bathing  parties,  and  the  men  on  practical  expe 
ditions  for  cutting  salt  hay,  and  for  clamming  and  fishing. 
And  so,  out  of  such  cmbryonagc,  appear  the  parents  and 
earliest  childhood  scenes  of  the  poet — the  father  Walter 
Whitman,  and  the  mother  Louisa  Van  Vclsor. 

From  the  immediate  mother  of  the  poet  come,  I  think, 
his  chief  traits.  She,  with  her  good  health  and  good  sense, 
her  kind  and  generous  heart,  cheerfulness,  equanimity,  her 
big  family  of  sons  and  daughters,  has  now  passed  through  a 
long  and  assiduous  life,  affording  a  sample  of  the  perfect 
woman  and  mother.  I  have  more  than  once  heard  Walt 
Whitman  say  that  his  views  of  humanity  and  of  the  female 
sex  could  never  have  been  what  they  arc,  if  he  had  not  had 
the  practical  proof  of  his  mother  and  other  noble  women 
always  before  him. 

I  should  not  neglect  to  put  on  record  a  statement,  also, 
of  the  father  of  the  poet,  as  a  most  honorable  man,  a  good 
citizen,  parent,  and  neighbor.  He  was  a  large,  quiet, 
serious  man,  very  kind  to  children  and  animals.  For  some 
years  he  was  a  farmer  on  his  own  land,  but  afterwards  went 
into  business,  house-building  and  carpentering. 

I  am  not  able,  nor  is  it  necessary,  to  give  the  particulars 
of  the  poet's  youthful  life.  While  a  child,  after  living  at 
the  natal  farm  a  brief  time,  his  parents  moved  to  Brooklyn, 
and  he  went  to  the  public  school  there  through  certain 
years,  yet  every  summer  visiting  the  place  of  birth  in  the 
country  again.  Brooklyn,  be  it  remembered,  was  a  charm 
ing  rural  town  at  that  time,  far  different  from  the  huge  and 
crowded  city  it  now  is. 


[Here  is  one  item  of  his  childhood:     On  the  visit  of 
General  Lafayette  to  this  country,  in  1825,  he  came  over 
to   Brooklyn   in  state,  and   rode  through   the  city.     The 
children  of  the  schools  turned  cut  to  join  in  the  welcome. 
A;i  edifice  for  a  free  public  library  for  youths  was  just  then 
commencing,  and  Lafayette  consented  to  stop  on  his  way 
und  lay  the  corner-stone.  .  Numerous  children  arriving  on 
the  ground,  where  a   huge   irregular   excavation   for   the 
building  was  already  dug,  surrounded  with  heaps  of  rough 
stone,  several  gentlemen  assisted  in  lifting  the  children  to 
safe  or  convenient  spots  to  see  the  ceremony.     Among  the 
rest,  I^afayettc,  also  helping  the  children,  took  up  the  five- 
year-old  Walt  Whitman,  and  pressing  the  child  a  moment 
to  his  breast,  and  giving  him  a  kiss,  handed  him  down  to  a 
safe  spot  in  the  excavation.] 


When  a  boy  of  thirteen  he  went  to  work  in  a  printing 
office,  and  learned  to  set  type.  At  sixteen  and  seventeen,  I 
find  him  spending  his  summers  in  the  country, 'and  along 
the  sea-side  of  the  island,  teaching  country  school,  and 
"  boarding  round  "  among  the  families  of  his  pupil i.  From 
this  field  of  employment  he  sent  a  short  sketch  or  story  to 
that  once  famous  monthly  the  Democratic  Revifto.  The 
sketch  made  a  hit,  and  was  copied  and  commended  widely. 
Other  sketches  and  writings  for  the  Review  followed. 
Whitman  left  his  country  school-teaching  and  came  to  New 

For  a  few  years  he  now  seems  to  be  a  member  of  that 
light  battalion  of  writers  for  the  press  who,  with  facile  pen, 
con-pose  tale,  report,  editorial,  or  what  not,  for  pleasure 


and  a  living;  a  peculiar  class,  always  to  be  found  in  any 
large  city.  Once  in  a  while  he  appears  at  the  political 
mass  meetings  as  a  speaker.  He  is  on  the  Democratic  side, 
at  the  time  going  for  Van  Buren  for  President,  and,  in  due 
course,  for  Polk.  He  speaks  in  New  York,  and  down  on 
Long  Island,  where  he  is  made  much  of.  It  is  probable, 
however,  that  all  is  done  with  a  view  to  exercise  as  largely 
as  anything  else. 

Through  this  period — from  1837  to  1848 — without  en 
tering  into  particulars,  it  is  enough  to  say  that  he  sounded 
all  expediences  of  life,  with  all  their  passions,  pleasures,  and 
abandonments.  He  was  young,  in  perfect  bodily  condition, 
and  had  the  city  of  New  York  and  its  ample  opportunities 
around  him.  I  trace  this  period  in  some  of  the  poems  in 
the  Children  of  Adamt  and  occasionally  in  other  parts  of  his 
book,  including  Calamus.  Those  who  have  met  the  poet 
of  late  years,  and  think  of  him  only  as  the  composed  and 
gray-bearded  man  of  the  present,  must  not  forget,  in  reading 
his  LEAVES,  those  previous  and  more  ardent  stages  of  his 
career.  Though  of  Walt  Whitman  it  may  be  said  that  he 
is  always  young. 

I  may  mention  here  a  characteristic,  which,  however, 
belongs  n6t  to  this  period  alone.  At  all  times  he  has  liked 
well  the  society,  of  the  class  called  "  common  people."  He 
has  gone  much  with  such  persons,  for  instance,  as  the  New 
York  bay  pilots,  the  fishermen  down  Long  Island,  certain 
country  farmers  and  city  mechanics,  and  especially  the 
Broadway  stage-drivers.  The  latter  class  for  years  have 
adopted  him  as  a  special  favorite  and  chum.  He  has  ridden 
on  top  of  the  stages  with  them,  £~  ?•<;  of  an  afternoon  along 

Broadway,  or  from  Fulton  Ferry  or  Bowling  Green  up  to 

'  82 

Twenty-third  street ;  so  noting  and  absorbing  the  life  anJ 
objects  or"  his  endeared  "  Mannahatta."  He  has  often  and 
often  visited  in  and  around  the  island  all  such  places  as  the 
ship-yard*,  the  foundries,  etc.;  is  fond  of  the  public  shows, 
and  delights  in  those  extra  gala-days  or  distinguished  recep 
tions  when  "million-footed  Manhattan  descends  to  her  pave 

The  artistic  pleasure  he  has  always  most  cared  for  is  the 
Italian  opera,  or  some  good  band  or  concert.  Many  pas 
sages  of  his  poetry  were  composed  in  the  gallery  of  the  New 
York  Academy  during  the  opera  performances. 


In » 1 849  he  began  traveling.  Passing  down  through 
Pennsylvania  and  Maryland,  he  crossed  the  Allcghanics, 
went  aboard  a  small  trading  steamer  at  Wheeling,  and  by 
slow  stages,  and  with  many  and  long  stoppages  and  detours, 
journeyed  along  and  down  the  Ohio  river.  In  the  same 
manner,  well  pleased  with  western  steamboat  life  and  its 
scenes,  he  descended  by  degrees  the  Mississippi.  In  New 
Orleans  he  edited  a  newspaper,  and  lived  there  a  year,  when 
he  again  ascended  the  Mississippi  to  St.  Louis;  moved 
through  that  region,  explored  the  Illinois  river  and  the 
towns  along  its  bank,  and  lingered  some  while  in  Wisconsin 
and  among  the  great  lakes;  stopt  north  of  the  straits  of 
Mackinaw,  also  at  Niagara  and  in  Canada.  He  saw  West 
ern  and  Northwestern  nature  and  character  in  all  their 
phases,  and  probably  took  there  and  then  the  decided 
inspiration  of  his  future  poetry. 

After  some  tv/o  years,  returning  to  Brooklyn,  I  trace  him 
again  trying  his  hand  at  a  printer's  occupation.     He  started 


a  newspaper,  first  as  weekly  and  then  as  daily.  He  sold 
out,  and  went  into  business  as  carpenter  and  builder,  (his 
father's  trade ;)  worked  with  his  own  hands  at  the  rougher 
work,  and  built  and  sold  moderate-priced  houses. 

It  is  at  this  period  (1853  and  the  seasons  immediately 
following,)  that  I  come  on  the  first  inkling  of  LEAVES  OF 
GRASS.  Walt  Whitman  is  now  thirty-four  years  old,  and 
in  the  full  fruition  of  health  and  physique.  There  is  a  lull 
or  interval  in  his  house-building  business,  so  that  he  has  no 
cares  from  that  quarter. 

In  1855,  then,  after  many  manuscript  doings  and  undo 
ings,  and  much  matter  destroyed,  and  two  or  three  complete 
re-writings,  the  essential  foundation  of  LEAVES  OF  GRASS  was 
laid  and  the  superstructure  raised,  in  the  piece  Ailed  IVals 
Whitman,  and  some  nine  or  ten  smaller  pieces,  forming  the 
thin  quarto  or  first  edition.  Indubitably  there  must  have 
been,  as  Emerson  says,  "a  long  foreground  somewhere"  to 
this  first  quarto.  But  that  foreground,  that  vast  previous, 
ante-dating  requirement  of  physical,  moral,  and  emotional 
experiences,  will  forever  remain  untold.  The  history  of 
the  First  publication,  and  also  of  the  Second,  Third,  and 
Fourth  growths,  or  issues,  I  have  already  narrated. 

Now  follows  the  war.  But  I  wish,  before  entering  upon 
that,  to  give  something  like  a  personal  description  of  the 
man  who  made  LEAVES  OF  GRASS. 


In  person  Walt  Whitman  is  much  above  the  average  size, 

with  remarkably  perfect  physical  proportions. 


A  writer,  Rev.  Mr.  Conway,  in  the  London  Fortnightly 


Review,  describing  a  visit  to  him,  and  their  spending  a 
summer  day  together,  says : 

"We  passed  the  remainder  of  the  day  roaming,  or  *  loafing,*  on  Staten 
Island,  where  we  had  shade,  and  many  miles  of  a  beautiful  beach. 
While  we  bathed  I  was  impressed  by  a  certain  grandeur  about  the  man, 
and  remembered  the  picture  of  Bacchus  on  the  wall  of  his  room.  I  then 
perceived  that  the  sun  had  put  a  red  mask  on  his  face  and  neck,  and  that 
his  body  was  a  ruddy  blonde,  pure  and  noble,  his  form  being  at  the  same 
time  remarkable  for  fine  curves  and  for  that  grace  of  movement  which  is 
the  flower  of  shapely  and  well-knit  bones.  His  head  was  oviform  in 
every  way}  his  hair,  which  was  strongly  mixed  with  gray,  was  cut  close 
to  his  head,  and,  with  his  beard,  was  in  strange  contrast  to  the  almost 
infantine  fullness  and  serenity  of  his  face.  This  serenity,  however,  came 
from  the  quiet  light  blue  eyes,  and  above  these  there  were  three  or  four 
deep  horizontal  furrows,  which  life  had  ploughed.  The  first  glow  of  any 
kind  that  >  saw  about  him  was  when  he  entered  the  water,  which  he 
fairly  hugged  with  a  lover's  enthusiasm.  But  when  he  was  talking  about 
that  which  deeply  interested  him,  his  voice,  always  gentle  and  clear, 
became  slow,  and  his  eyelids  had  a  tendency  to  decline  over  his  eyes.  It 
was  impossible  not  to  feel  at  every  moment  the  reality  of  every  word  and 
movement  of  the  man,  and  also  the  surprising  delicacy  of  one  who  was 
even  freer  with  his  pen  than  honest  Montaigne." 

Of  his  familiar  figure  and  gait,  as  seen  on  the  wide  side 
walk  of  crowded  Broadway,  in  his  own  city,  of  a  fine 
afternoon — or,  of  late  years,  on  Pennsylvania  avenue,  in 
Washington— I  give  the  following  easily-recognized  por 
traiture.  It  is  from  a  Washington  letter,  written  by  one 
himself  a  poet,  and  printed  (February,  1866)  in  a  Columbus, 
Ohio,  periodical : 

"There  are  a  few  interesting  persons  here  for  whom  you  do  not  look, 
and  you  shall  therefore  come  upon  them  unexpectedly.  Walk  up  the 
Avenue  at  four  o'clock,  for  instance.  Who  is  this  that  cometh  as  if 
breasting  or  blown  by  a  strong,  slow  wind — gigantic  in  expression  at  least, 


paternal,  and  (begging  pardon  of  Apollo)  somcwhaf  Jove-like >  This  Is 
one  of  those  you  didn't  expect  to  see,  and  you  may  as  well  look  at  him, 
for  you  cannot  help  it.  Once  (and,  as  you  love  and  reverence  that  gentle 
father  of  our  newer  country,  you  may  well  bear  this  in  reverent  memory 
while  you  gaze,)  Abraham  Lincoln,  seeing  this  one  passing  from  his  White 
House  window,  and  following  him  with  genial  eyes,  said,  in  that  voice  we 
all  remember  here— « Well,  He  looks  like  a  MAN/" 

Yet  those  who  entertain  great  expectations  Walt  Whitman 
will  probably  disappoint  at  first  sight.  I  have  known  and 
seen  him  for  years,  under  various  surroundings,  in  company, 
on  rambles,  by  the  sick  cots  in  the  army  hospitals,  and  else 
where;  and  I  should  describe  him,  off-hand,  as  a  cheerful, 
rather  quiet  man,  easily  pleased  with  others,  letting  them 
do  most  of  the  talking,  seeking  not  the  least  conquest  or 
display,  never  exhibiting  any  depression  of  spirits,  asking 
very  few  questions,  and  at  first  view  making  the  impression 
on  any  unsuspecting  stranger  of  a  good-willed,  healthy 
character,  without  the  least  ostensible  mark  of  the  philoso 
pher  or  the  poet ;  but  all  the  while,  though  thus  passive 
and  receptive,  yet  evidently  the  most  masculine  of  beings. 

Observed  more  closely,  he  suggests  ideas  as  of  the 
Beginners,  the  Adamic  men.  One  notes  the  great  strength 
of  his  face,  of  the  fullest  Greek  pattern,  and  combining  the 
quality  of  weight  with  that  which  soars  and  ascends;  head 
high-domed  and  perfectly  symmetrical,  with  no  bulging  of 
the  forehead ;  brows  remarkably  arching ;  nose  straight  and 
broad,  with  a  strong  square  bridge ;  gray  beard,  in  bushy 
fleeces  or  locks;  florid  countenance,  well  seamed;  blue 
eyes,  with  very  heavy  projecting  lids;  and  in  physiognomy, 
as  in  his  whole  form  withal,  a  certain  cast  of  chivalry: 

•'  Douglas !  Douglas !  tender  and  true." 


While  not  incapable,  also,  on  due  occasions,  of  measureless 
obstinacy  and  hauteur. 

'eccentricity*'  of  Walt  Whitman,  though  it  has 
been  part  of  the  material  of  many  a  paragraphist  and  maga 
zine  writer  for  the  last  ten  years,  has  not  a  particle  of  real 
foundation.     The  truth  simply  is,  that  as  to  "  fashion  "  and 
all  the  mere  fopperies  and  conventional  trimmings,  which 
American  society  is  perhaps  more  the  slave  of  than  any 
European  people,  he  quietly  ignores  them  in  his  dress  and 
demeanor,  as  will  always  any  man  of  full  physique  and 
noble  and  independent  nature.     No  essential,  however,  no 
universal  law,  nothing  belonging  to  the  gentleman  in  the 
true   sense,  does   he   ever   ignore.   "Far   above  oddity  or 
quecrncss,   I    thin'-c    the   verdict    of  every  good  observer, 
noticing  him  with  attention,  will  finally  be  that,  if  anything 
makes  him  eccentric,  it  is  because  he,  above  all  the  rest,  is 
so  free  from  eccentricity. 

Of  his  manners  I  should  say,  the  best  statement  of  their 
dominant  spirit,  as  exemplified  by  his  life,  is  to  be  found  in 
his  own  chant,  Manhattan's  Streets  I  Sauntered  Pondering; 
but  that  beneath,  and  for  its  occasions,  he  has  perceptive 
wisdom,  or  good  Yankee  shrewdness,  also. 

It  may  be  because  everything  in  his  personal  appearance 
is  so  relentlessly  averaged  to  the  idea  of  a  complete  man, 
that  strangers  involuntarily  ascribe  to  him  all  sorts  of  char- 
acters,  according  to  their  first  impressions.  I  knew  a  lady 
who  persisted  in  calling  him  "  Doctor,"  and  even  consulting 
him  professionally,  without  ever  stopping  to  inquire  about, 
and  even  after  she  had  been  told,  the  truth.  During  his 


services  in  the  army  hospitals,  of  which  I  shall  presentlv 
speak,  various  myths  were  floating  about  concerning  him. 
Now  he  was  a  benevolent  Catholic  priest — then  some  un 
known  army  general,  or  retired  sea  captain;  and  at  one 
time  he  was  the  owner  of  the  whole  Cunard  line  of  steamers. 
To  be  taken  for  a  Californian  has  been  common. 

One  remembers  his  own  account  of  the  poet  of  the 
Kosmos,  as  given  in  the  Morning  Romanza: 

"The  authors  take  him  for  an  author,  and  the  artists  for  an  artist, 
And  the  laborers  perceive  he  could  labor  with  them  and  love  them; 
No  matter  what  the  work  is,  that  he  is  the  one  to  follow  it,  or  has 

follow'd  it, 
No  matter  what  the  nation,  that  he  might  rind  hit  brothers  and  sisters 

there.  ' 

The  gentleman  of  perfect  blood  acknowledges  his  perfect  blood ; 

The  insulter,  the  prostitute,  the  angry  person,  the  beggar,  see  them 
selves  in  the  ways  of  him— -he  strangely  transmutes  them, 

They  are  not  vile  any  more — they  hardly  know  themselves,  they  are 
so  grown." 


There  probably  lives  not  another  man  so  genuinlly  and 
utterly  indifferent  to  literary  abuse, or  to  "public  opinion," 
either  when  favorable  or  unfavorable.  He  has  never  used 
the  usual  means  to  defend  his  reputation.  It  has  been  his 
fate  to  have  his  book  and  his  personal  character  atrociously 
intercepted  from  their  due  audience  with  the  public,  whose 
minds  have  been  plied  and  preoccupied  by  detractions,  and 
the  meanest  misrcports  and  falsehoods. 

In  the  midst  of  these  I  send  forth  my  Notes,  with  an 
object,  if  I  know  my  own  mind,  far  different  from  mere 
eulogy.  I  am  well  aware,  first,  that  no  one  volume,  how- 


ever  great  or  specially  attractive  to  its  admirers,  monopolizes 
either  intrinsic  merit  or  formative  beauty,  but  that  of  the 
first-class  works  in  the  world's  literature,  each  is  good, 
supremely  good,  after  its  kind,  and  is  simply  perfect  as  any 
»can  be  perfect;  and  second,  that  my  poet  personally  is,  of 
course,  but  one  of  thousands  of  deserving  men;  and  I  know 
that  he  .would  be  the  fir«t  to  laugh  to  derision  any  elevation 
of  himself  as  exceptionally  good. 

And  now  I  proceed  to  an  account  of  the  attitude  of  Walt 
Whitman  during  the  war. 


Soon  after  the  opening  of  the  war,  I  find  him  down  in 
the  field,  making  himself  practically  useful  among  the 
wounded.  He  was  first  drawn  there  on  behalf  of  his 
brother,  Lieutenant-Colonel  George  W.  Whitman,  jist 
New  York  Veterans,  who  was  hit  in  the  face  by  a  piece 
of  shell  at  Frcdericksburgh. 

He  commences  service  in  1862,  supporting  himself  during 
the  ensuing  two  or  three  years  by  correspondence  with 
northern  newspapers.  I  pick  out  from  this  quite  extensive 
correspondence  one  or  two  long  letters  devoted  to  current 
narratives  of  the  hospitals  and  wounded,  and  am  able*  from 
them,  to  give  some  direct  glimpses  into  his  life  at  this 
period.  I  make  the  following  extract  from  a  letter  at 
Fredcricksburgh,  the  third  or  fourth  day  after  the  battle  of 
the  middle  of  December,  1862: 

"Spent  a  good  part  of  the  day  in  a  large  brick  mansion,  on  the  bank* 
of  the  Rappahannock,  immediately  opposite  Frederic  k^burgh.     It  is  u*ed 
,  as  a  hospital  since  the  battle,  and  seems  to  have  received  only  the  worst 
Out  doors,  at  the  foot  of  a  tree,  within  ten  yards  of  the  front  of 


the  house,  I  notice  a  hrap  of  amputated  feet,  Iep«,  Arms,  hands,  &c.t 
about  a  load  for  a  one-horse  cart.  Several  dead  bodies  lie  near,  each 
covered  with  its  brown  woolen  blanket,  in  the  door-yard,  toward  the 
river,  arc  fresh  graves,  mostly  of  officers,  their  names  on  pieces  of  barrel 
staves  or  broken  board,  stuck  in  the  dirt.  (Most  of  these  bodies  were 
subsequently  taken  up  and  transported  North  to  their  friends.) 

"The  house  is  quite  crowded,  everything  impromptu,  no  system,  all 
bad  enough,  but  I  have  no  doubt  the  best  that  can  be  done;  all  the  wounds 
pretty  bad,  some  frightful,  the  men  in  their  old  clothes,  unclean  and 
bloody.  Some  of  the  wounded  are  rebel  officers,  prisoners.  One,  a  M'u- 
Mssippian—  a  captain—  hit  badly  in  leg,  I  talked  with  some  time;  he 
asked  me  for  papers,  which  I  gave  him.  (I  saw  him  three  months 
afterward  in  Washington,  with  leg  amputated,  doing  well.) 

14  1  went  through  the  rooms,  down  stairs  and  up.  Some  of  the  men 
wr-r  dying.  I  had  nothing  to  give  at  that  visit,  but  wrote  a  few  letters 
to  folks  home,  mothers,  &c.  Also  talked  to  three  or  four,  who  teemed 
susceptible  to  it,  and  needing  it." 

"Die.  12  TO  31.  —  Am  among  the  regimental,  brigade,  and  division 
hospitals  somewhat.  Few  at  home  realize  that  these  are  merely  tcnti, 
and  sometimes  very  poor  ones,  the  wounded  lying  on  the  ground,  lucky 
if  their  blanket  is  spread  on  a  layer  of  pine  or  hemlock  twigs,  or  some 
leaves.  No  cots;  seldom  even  a  mattress  on  the  ground.  It  is  pretty 
cold.  I  go  around  from  one  case  to  another.  I  do  not  see  that  I  can  do 
any  good,  but  I  cannot  leave  them.  Once  in  .a  while  some  youngster 
holds  on  to  me  convulsively,  and  I  do  what  I  can  for  him)  at  any  rate, 
•top  with  him  and  sit  near  him  for  hour*,  if  he  wishes  it. 

*'  Beside  the  hospitals,  1  also  go  occasionally  on  long  tours  through  the 
camps,  talking  with  the  men,  &c.  Sometimes  at  night  among  the  groups 
around  the  fires,  in  their  shebang  enclosures  of  bushes.  I  soon  get 
acquainted  anywhere  in  camp,  with  officers  or  men,  and  am  always  well 
used.  Sometimes  I  go  down  on  picket  with  the  regiments  1  know  best.'* 

After  continuing  in  front  through  the  winter,  he  returns 
to  Washington,  where  the  wounded  and  sick  have  mainly 
been  concentrated,  The  Capital  City,  truly,  ii  now  one 


huge  hospital ;  and  there  Whitman  establishes  himself,  and 
thenceforward,  for  several  years,  has  but  one  daily  and 
nightly  avocation. 

I  make  the  following  excerpts  from  the  narratives  alluded 
to,  as  samples  of  his  daily  work : 

«*My  custom  is  to  go  through  a  ward,  or  collet tion  of  wards,  endeavor 
ing  to  give  some  trifle  to  each,  without  misting  any.     Even  a  tweet  bis 
cuit,  a  sheet  of  paper,  or  a  passing  word  of  friendliness,  or  but  a  look  or 
nod,  if  no  more.     In  this  way   I  go  among  large   numbers    without 
delaying,  yet  do  not  hurry.     I  find  out  the  general  mood  of  the  ward  at 
the  time;  sometimes  see  that  there  is  a  heavy  weight  of  lUtlessness  pre 
vailing,  and  the  whole  ward  wants  cheering  up.     I,  perhaps,  read  to  the 
men,  to  break  the  spell;  calling  them  around  me,  careful  to  sit  away  from 
the  cot  of  any  one  who  is  very  bad  with  sickness  or  wounds.     ALo,  I 
find  out,  by  going  through  in  this  way,  the  cases  that  need  special  atten 
tion,  and  can  then  devote  proper  time  to  them.     Of  course,  I  am  very 
cautious  among  the  patients,  in  giving  them  food.     I  always  confer  with 
the  doctor,  or  find  out  from  the  nurse  or  ward-master  about  a  new  c&se. 
But  I  soon  get  sufficiently  familiar  with  what  is  to  be  avoided,  and  learn 
also  to  judge  almost  intuitively  what  is  best.** 

"  I  buy,  during  the  hot  weather,  boxes  of  oranges  from  time  to  time, 
and  distribute  them  among  the  men;  also  preserved  peaches  and  other 
fruits;  also  lemons  and  sugar,  for  lemonade.  Tobacco  is  also  much  in 
demand.  Large  numbers  of  the  men  come  up,  as  usual,  without  a  cent 
of  money.  Through  the  assistance  of  friends  in  Brooklyn  and  Boston,  I 
am  again  able  to  help  many  of  those  that  fail  in  my  way.  It  is  only  a 
•mall  sum  :n  each  case,  but  it  is  much  to  them.  As  before,  I  go  around 
daily  and  talk  with  the  men,  to  cheer  them  up.** 

He  alludes  to  writing  letters  by  the  bed-side,  and  says : 

""I  do  a  good  deal  of  this,  of  course,  writing  all  kinds,  including  love- 
letters.  Many  sick  and  wounded  soldiers  have  not  written  home  to 
parents,  brothers,  sisters,  and  even  wives,  for  one  reason  or  another,  for  a 
long,  long  time.  Some  arc  poor  writers,  some  cannot  get  p..per  and 


envelope*  |  many  have  an  avcrrion  to  writing  became  they  dread  to  worry 
the  folks  at  home — the  fact*  about  them  arc  10  »ad  to  tell.  I  always 
encourage  the  men  to  write,  and  promptly  write  tor  them." 

A  glimpse  of  the  scenes  after  Chancellorsvillc: 

"At  I  write  this,  in  May,  1863,  the  wounded  have  begun  to  arrive 
from  Hooker's  command  from  bloody  Clumcllorsville.  1  was  down 
among  the  tint  arrival*.  The  men  in  charge  of  them  told  me  the  bad 
cases  were  yet  to  come.  If  that  is  to,  I  pity  them,  for  these  are  bad 
enough.  You  ought  to  tec  the  scene  of  the  wounded  arriving  at  the 
landing  here  foot  of  Sixth  >'rect  at  night.  Two  boat  load*  came  about 
luli'-pa:  t  seven  last  night.  A  little  after  eight,  it  rained  a  long  and  violent 
•huwer.  The  poor,  pale,  helpless  soldiers  had  been  debarked,  and  lay 
around  on  the  wharf  and  neighborhood  anywhere.  The  rain  was,  probably, 
grateful  to  them;  at  any  rate  they  were  exposed  to  it. 

"The  few  torches  light  up  the  spectacle.  All  around  on  the  wharf, on 
the  ground,  out  on  side  places,  &c.,  the  men  are  lying  on  blankets  and 
old  quilts,  with  the  bloody  rags  bound  round  head;,  arms,  legs,  Sec.  The 
attendants  are  few,  and  at  night  few  outsiders  also—only  a  few  hard- 
worked  tun.- port Jtion  men  and  drivers.  (The  wounded  are  getting  to  be 
common,  and  people  grow  callous.)  The  men,  whatever  their  condition, 
lie  there,  and  patiently  wait  till  their  turn  comes  to  be  taken  up.  Near  by 
the  ambulances  are  now  arriving  in  clusters,  and  one  after  another  is  called 
to  back  up  and  take  its  load.  Extreme  cases  arc  sent  off  on  stretchers. 
The  men  generally  make  little  or  no  ado,  whatever  their  sufferings.  A 
few  groans  that  cannot  be  repressed,  and  occasionally  a  scream  of  pain  as 
they  lift  a  man  into  the  ambulance. 

"To-day,  as  I  write,  hundreds  more  are  expected,  and  to-morrow  and 
the  next  day  more,  and  so  on  for  many  days." 

"The  soldiers  are  nearly  all  young  men,  and  far  more  American  than 
is  generally  supposed — I  should  say  nine-tenths  are  native  born.  Among 
the  arrivals  from  Chancellorsvillc  I  find  a  large  proportion  of  Ohio, 
Indiana,  and  Illinois  men.  As  usual,  there  are  all  sorts  of  wounds. 
Some  of  the  men  are  fearfully  burnt  from  the  explosion  of  artillery  cais 
sons.  One  ward  has  a  long  row  of  officers,  some  with  ugly  hurts.  Yes- 


tcrday  was,  perhaps,  worse  than  usual.  Amputations  are  going  on  -  the 
attendants  are  dressing  woundi.  As  you  pass  by  you  must  be  on  your 
guard  where  you  look.  I  taw,  the  other  day,  a  gentleman,  »%  visitor, 
apparently  from  curiosity,  in  one  of  the  wards,  stop  and  turn  a  moment  to 
look  at  an  awful  wound  they  were  probing,  «ec.  He  turned  pale,  and  in 
a  moment  more  he  had  fainted  away  and  fallen  on  the  floor." 

An  episode — the  death  of  a  New  York  soldier : 

"This  afternoon,  July  aa,  1863, 1  spent  a  long  time  with  a  young  man 
I  have  been  with  a  good  deal  from  time  to  time,  named  Oscar  F.  Wither, 
company  G,  i  54-th  New  York,  low  with  chronic  diarrhcra,  and  a  bad 
wound  also.    He  asked  me  to  read  him  a  chapter  in  the  New  Testament. 
I  complied,  and  asked  him  what  I  should  read.     He  saidt  »Make  your 
own  choice.*     1  opened  at  the  close  of  one  of  the  first  books  of  the  Evan 
gelists,  and  read  the  chapters  describing  the  latter  hours  of  Christ  and  the 
•cenes  at  the  crucifixion.     The  poor,  wasted  young  man  asked  me  to  read 
the  following  chapter  also,  how  ChrLt  rose  again.     I  read  vrry  »lgwly,  for 
Oscar  was  feeble.     It  pleased  him  very  much,  yet  the  tears  were  in  his 
eyes.    He  asked  me  if  I  enjoyed  religion.    I  said :  '  Perhaps  not,  my  dear, 
in  the  way  you  mean,  and  yet,  maybe,  it  is  the  same  thing.'     He  said : 
*  It  is  my  chief  reliance.'     He  talked  of  death,  and  said  he  did  not  fear  it. 
I  said i  «Why,  Oscar,  don't  you  think  you  will  get  well?*     He  saidt  *I 
may,  but  it  is  not  probable.'     He  spoke  calmly  of  his  condition.     The 
wound  was  very  bad)  it  discharged  much.     Then  the  di.irrhrra  had  pros 
trated  him,  and   I   felt  that  he  was  even  then  the  same  as  dying.     He 
behaved  very  manly  and  affectionate.     The  kiss  I  gave  him  as  I  was 
•bout  leaving  he  returned  fourfold.     He  gave  me  his  mother's  address, 
Mrs.  Sally  D.  Wilber,  Alleghany  post-office,  Cattaraugus  county,  New  York. 
I  had  several  such  interviews  with  him.     He  died  a  few  days  after  the 
one  just  described." 

And  here  also  a  chnractcriitlc  iccnc  In  another  of  those 
long  barracks : 

"It  Is  Sunday  afternoon,  (middle  of  summer,  1864,)  hot  and  oppressive, 
and  very  silent  through  the  ward,     1  am  taking  care  of  a  critical  case, 


n'.w  lylnj  in  a  half  Inlurjry.  Near  win  re  I  iit  L  a  rufiering  rebel,  from 
the  Htft  Loui  i.»n.i;  his  name  u  Irving.  He  has  been  here  a  long  time, 
badly  wounled,  and  has  lately  hal  his  leg  amputated.  It  is  not  doing 
very  veil.  Right  opposite  me  is  a  bL'k  roldicr  boy,  laid  down  with  his' 
clothes  on,  sleeping,  l'x>king  much  wasted,  hii  pallid  face  on  his  arm.  I  see 
by  the  yell  jw  trimming  on  his  jacket  that  he  is  a  cavalry  boy.  He  looks  so 
hanJtiome  as  he  sleeps,  one  must  needs  go  nearer  to  him.  I  step  softly 
over  to  him,  and  find  by  his  card  that  he  is  named  William  Cone,  of  the 
1st  Maine  cavalry,  and  his  folks  live  in  Skowhcgan." 

Mr.  Whitman  spends  the  winter  of  1863-4 
army  at  Brandy  Station  and  Culpepper,  Virginia,  among  the 
brigade  and  division  hospitals,  moving  in  the  same  scenes 
and  performing  similar  work. 

The  following  summer,  the  bloody  holocaust  of  the 
Wilderness,  and  the  fierce  promenade  down  to  the  James 
river,  give  him  plenty  to  do,  and  he  docs  it  well,  until  he 
himself  is  prostrated.*  Bjt  I  cannot  follow  him  in  the 
details  of  this  career.  Thcv  would  fill  a  volume. 

*  In  the  hot  summer  of  1864,  Whitman,  who  up  to  that  period  had 
been  the  picture  of  health  and  strong,  unsurpassed  physique,  was  taken 
down  with  an  illness  which,  although  he  recovered  from  it,  has  left  effects 
upon  him  to  this  day.  He  was  nurse  at  the  time  to  a  number  of  soldiers, 
badly  wounded  in  the  late  battles,  and  whose  wounds,  from  previous  en 
forced  neglect  and  the  intense  heat  of  the  weather,  were  mortified,  and 
several  corrupted  with  worms.  He  remained  assiduously  night  and  da/ 
with  these  lamentable  cases.  The  consequence  was  that  his  system, 
doubtless  weakened  by  anxiety,  became  deeply  saturated  with  the  worst 
poison  of  hospital  malaria.  He  was  ordered  north  by  the  physicians;  an 
illness  of  six  months  followed,  the  first  sickness  in  his  life. 

In  February,  1865,  wishing  to  return  to  the  field  of  his  labors,  in 
Washington,  he  received  from  the  then  head  of  the  Department  of  the 
Interior  an  appointment  to  a  clerkship.  This  gave  him  leisure  for  hospital 
vis'.ts,  and  secured  him  an  income.  He  performed  his  clerical  work  well, 
and  was  promoted.  He  was  now  dividing  his  leisure  hours  between  services 
to  the  wounded  and  in  composing  the  memorial  to  Abraham  Lincoln, 
Lilact  Laa  in  the  Door-yard  Bloomed"  It  was  at  ihU  juncture 


[An  army  surgeon  who  at  the  time  watched  with  curi. 
osity  Mr.  Whitman's  movements  among  the  soldiers  in  the 
hospitals  has  since  told  me  that  his  principles  of  operation, 
effective  as  they  were,  seemed  strangely  few,  simple,  and 
on  a  low  key :  to  act  upon  the  appetite,  to  cheer  by  a 
healthy  and  fitly  bracing  appearance  and  demeanor,  and  to 
fill  and  satisfy,  in  certain  cases,  the  aftectional  longings  of 
the  patients,  was  about  all.  He  carried  among  them  no 
scntimentalism  nor  moralizing;  spoke  not  to  any  man  of 
his  "sins";  but  gave  something  good  to  cat,  a  buoying 
word,  or  a  trifling  gift  and  a  look.  He  appeared  with 
ruddy  face,  clean  dress,  with  a  flower  or  a  green  sprig  in 
the  lappet  of  his  coat.  Crossing  the  fields  in  summer  he 
would  gather  a  great  bunch  of  dandelion  blossoms,  and  red 
and  white  clover,  to  bring  and  scatter  on  the  cots,  as  re 
minders  of  out-door  air  and  sunshine. 

When  practicable,  he  came  to  the  long  and  crowded 
wards  of  the  maimed,  the  feeble,  and  the  dying,  only  after 
preparations  as  for  a  festival — strengthened  by  a  good  meal, 
rest,  the  bath,  and  fresh  underclothes.  He  entered  with  a 
huge  haversack  slung  over  his  shoulder,  full  of  appropriate 

that  a  new  Secretary,  Hon.  James  Marian,  luJdcnly  removed  him  from 
his  tituation,  for  the  reason  that  "he  was  the  author  of  LKAVKJ  or  (JRAM." 
The  circumstancca  are  far  more  brutal  ami  infumoui  than  it  generally 
known.  An  eminent  person,  intimate  with  Mr.  Marian,  went  to  itim, 
and  in  a  long  interview  thoroughly  proved  Walt  Whitman1,  pertonal 
character,  and  the  theory  and  intention*,  at  least,  of  his  hook.  H.trlan, 
in  reply,  merely  said  that  the  author  of  LEAVKI  or  GRASS  should  never  be 
allowed  in  his  department. 

Immediately  on  thu  occurrence,  (July,  1865,)  Mr.  Whitmin  was  lent 
for  by  a  diuinguuhcd  cabinet  officer,  and  ottered  a  place  at  hi*  disposal, 
under  Government,  of  moderate  pay,  but  an  honorable  position.  Thu  h« 
accepted,  and  has  continued  to  occupy  tlnce. 


articles,  with  parcels  under  his  arms,  and  protuberant 
pockets.  He  would  sometimes  come  in  summer  with  a 
good-fci/cd  basket,  filled  with  oranges,  and  would  go  round 
fur  hours  paring  and  dividing  them  among  the  feverish  and 


I  would  say  to  the  reader  that  I  have  dwelt  upon  this 
portion  of  Walt  Whitman*s  life,  not  so  much  because  it 
enters  into  the  statement  of  his  biography,  a*  because  it 
really  enters  into  the  statement  of  his  poetry,  and  affords  a 
light  through  which  alone  the  later  pieces,  and  in  some  sort 
the  whole  of  his  work  can  be  fitly  construed.  His  large, 
oceanic  nature  doubtless  enjoyed  fully,  and  grew  all  the 
larger  from,  the  pouring  out  of  its  powerful  currents  of 
magnetism;  and  this  is  evident  in  his  pieces  since  1861. 

The  statement  is  also  needed  with  reference  to  the  coun 
try,  for  it  rises  to  national  proportions.  To  more  than  a 
hundred  thousand  suffering  soldiers  was  he,  during  the  war, 
personally  the  cheering  visitor,  and  ministered  in  some  form 
to  their  direct  needs  of  body  and  spirit;  soldiers  from  every 
quarter,  west,  cast,  north,  and  south — for  he  treated  the 
rebel  wounded  the  same  as  the  rest. 

Of  course  there  were  plenty  of  others,  men  and  women, 
who  engaged  faithfully  in  the  same  service.  But  it  is 
probable  that  no  other  was  so  endowed  for  it  as  Walt 
Whitman.  I  should  say  his  whole  character  culminates 
here ;  and,  as  a  country  is  best  viewed  by  ascending  some 
peak,  so  from  this  point  his  life  and  book  arc  to  be  read  and 

Since  the  close  of  the  war  he  has  continued  his  ministnu 


tions  among  the  sick  and  wounded  just  the  name,  down  to 
the  present  time,  (March,  1867.)  Every  Sunday  find*  him 
at  .the  hospital,  and  he  frequently  goes  there  during  the 
week.  For  the  maimed  and  the  infirm  of  the  war  we  have 
yet  among  us,  in  many  a  dreary  case,  and  the  wounds  of  the 
contest  are  still  unhealcd. 

DRUM  -T  A  P  s 

OUT  of  that  experience  in  camp  and  hospital  the  pieces 
called  DRUM-TAPS  were  produced.  Their  descriptions 
and  pictures,  therefore,  come  from  life.  The  vivid  inci 
dents  of  Tie  Dresser  arc  but  daguerreotypes  of  the  poet's 
own  actual  movements  among  the  bad  cases  of  the  wounded 
after  a  battle.  The  same  personal  knowledge  runs  through 
jl  Sight  in  Camp  in  the  Daybreak  Grey  and  Dim;  Come  Up 
from  the  Fields,  Father,  etc.,  etc. 

The  reader  of  DRUM-TAPS  soon  discovers  that  it  is  not 
the  purpose  of  the  poet  to  portray  battles  and  campaigns, 
or  to  celebrate  special  leaders  or  military  prowess,  but 
rather  to  chant  the  human  aspects  of  anguish  that  follow  in 
the  train  of  war.  He  perhaps  feels  that  the  permanent 
condition  of  modern  society  is  that  of  peace;  that  war,  as 
a  business,  as  a  means  of  growth,  has  served  its  time,  and 
that,  notwithstanding  the  vast  difference  between  ancient 
and  modern  warfare,  both  in  the  spirit  and  in  the  means, 
Homer's  pictures  are  essentially  true  yet,  and  no  additions 
to  them  can  be  made.  War  can  never  be  to  us  what  it  has 
been  to  the  nations  of  all  ages  down  to  the  present;  never 
the  main  fact — the  paramount  condition,  tyrannizing  over 
all  the  affairs  of  national  and  individual  life;  but  only  an 


episode,  a  passing  interruption ;  and  the  poet  who  in  our 
day  would  be  as  true  to  his  nation  and  times  as  Homer  was 
to  his,  must  treat  of  it  from  the  standpoint  of  peace  and 
progress,  and  even  benevolence.  Vast  armies  rise  up  in  a 
night,  and  disappear  in  a  day — a  million  of  men,  inured 
to  battle  and  to  blood,  go  back  to  the  avocations  of  psacc 
without  a  moment's  confusion  or  delay — indicating  clearly 
the  tendency  that  prevails.  Hence  those  readers  who, 
from  the  turbulent  and  audacious  spirit  of  LEAVES  OF  GRASS, 
expected  to  find  in  this  little  volume  all  the  "  pomp  and 
circumstance  of  glorious  war,"  have  been  disappointed. 

Apostrophizing  the  genius  of  America  in  the  supreme 
hour  of  victory,  he  says: 

"No  poem  proud,  I,  chanting,  bring  to  thce — nor  mastery's  rapturous 

verse } 
But   a   little   book  containing   night's   darkness   and    blood-dripping 

And  psalms  of  the  dead.'* 

The  collection  is  also  remarkable  for  the  absence  of  all 
sectional  or  partisan  feeling.  Under  the  head  of  Reconcilia 
tion  are  these  lines : 

"  Word  over  all,  beautiful  as  the  sky ! 
Beautiful  that  war,  and  all  its  deeds  of  carnage,  must  in  time  be  utterly 

That  the  hands  of  the  sisters  Death  and  Night  incessantly,  softly  wash 

again,  and  ever  again,  this  soil'd  world; 

.     .     .     For  my  enemy  is  dead — a  man  divine  as  myself  is  dead  j 
I  look  where  he  lies,  white-faced  and  still,  in  the  coffin— I  draw  near; 
I  bend  down,  and  touch  lightly  with  my  lips  the  white  face  in  the 


But  I  am  anticipating. 

The  collection  opens  with  a  piece  descriptive  of  the 
sudden  and  general  uprising  of  the  people  of  the  Northern 
States  when  the  national  flag  was  fired  on  at  Fort  Sumter. 
It  specially  describes  the  electric  scene  that  followed  in 
New  York  city,  and  has  the  effect  of  a  sudden  determined 

The  Banner  at  Daybreak  contains  a  slight  dramatic  plot, 
in  which  figure  a  father  and  his  child  and  the  poet.  The 
general  spirit  of  the  dialogue  is  that  of  intense  devotion  to 
-the  national  flag: 

"Not  houses  of  peace  are  you,  nor  any  nor  all  their  prosperity,  (if  need 
be,  you  shall  have  every  one  of  those  houses  to  destroy  them; 

You  thought  not  to  destroy  those  valuable  houses,  standing  fast,  full  of 
comfort,  built  with  money; 

May  they  stand  fast,  then  ?  Not  an  hour,  unless  you,  above  them  and 
all,  stand  fast!)" 

The  Centenarian's  Story,  also  slightly  dramatic,  is  a  tra 
dition  of  the  battle  of  Long  Island,  at  the  commencement 
of  the  Revolutionary  War.  Pioneers!  O  Pioneers!  is  a 
measured  chant  and  refrain,  in  which  the  masses  of  the 
West  and  the  great  Territories  seem  to  be  marching  in 
procession,  uttering  a  characteristic  recitative.  It  has  the 
sense  of  steady,  irresistible  motion  and  vastncss.  I  consider 
it  one  of  the  choicest  of  his  lyrics.  Rise  O  Days  from  Tour 
Fathomless  Deeps,  and  Tears  of  tbc  Unperformed,  are  samples 
of  how  much  meaning  and  power  can  be  put  into  words; 
each  line  of  these  pieces  seems  to  stagger  under  the  piled-up 
weight  it  carries.  Indeed  the  former  of  the  two  is  an  un 
equalled  study  in  phrasing.  Its  Herculean  lines  move  on 
as  if  the  elemental  displays  and  throes  of  the  globe  were 
working  in  a  chant. 


A  Broadway  Pageant  (a  sort  of  episode  of  which  there 
are  two  or  three  in  the  book)  records,  or  rather  branches 
out  from,  the  visit  of  the  Japanese  embassy  at  New  York, 
in  1 860.  It  is  full  of  flowing  pictures,  and  forms  a  curious 
blending  of  the  subjective  and  objective. 

"The  Originatress  comes, 

The  land  of  Paradise — land  of  the  Caucasus — the  nest  of  birth, 
The  nr*t  of  languages,  the  bequcather  of  poems,  the  race  of  eld, 
Florid  with  blood,  pensive,  rapt  with  musing,  hot  with  passion, 
Sultry  with  perfume,  with  ample  and  flowing  garments, 
With  sunburnt  visage,  with  intense  soul  and  glittering  eyes, 
The  race  of  Brahma  comes!" 

Then  there  are  through  the  collection  many  small  pieces, 
each  full  of  its  own  pulsation.  Here  is  one  of  those  throb 
bing  sonatas: 

'*  Bathed  in  wor'i  perfume— delicate  flag ! 
O  to  hear  you  call  the  sailors  and  the  soldiers!  flag  like  a  beautiful 

woman ! 
O  to  hear  the  tramp,  tramp,  of  a  million  answering  men!     O  the  shtpt 

they  arm  with  joy ! 

O  to  see  you  leap  and  beckon  from  the  tall  masts  of  ships' 
O  to  see  you  peering  down  on  the  sailors  on  the  decks! 
Flag  like  the  eyes  of  women.** 

There  are  numerous  genre  sketches,  mostly  of  camp  life, 
the  bivouac,  the  moon  pouring  floods  of  silver  on  the 
battle-field,  etc.  Then  in  the  SEQUEL  TO  DRUM-TAPS  a 
piece  of  importance  which  needs  to  be  specially  analyzed. 


The  assassination  of  President  Lincoln  made  a  very  deep 
and  painful  impression  upon  the  poet,  who  had  formed  a 
personal  attachment  to  the  President,  regarding  him  as  by 


fcu  the  noblest  and  purest  of  the  political  characters  of  the 
time ;  and,  beyond  that,  as  a  sort  of  representative  historical 
American  man. 

Although  DRUM-TAPS  had  been  finished,  as  supposed, 
and  a  few  copies  bound,  the  author,  on  the  death  of  Mr. 
Lincoln,  determined  to  revoke  them  and  hold  the  book 
back  awhile.  In  a  few  weeks  thereafter,  when  more  com 
posed,  he  planned  out  and  began  the  construction  of  that, 
in  some  respects,  most  remarkable  of  all  his  chants,  When 
Lilacs  Laet  in  the  Door-yard  Bloomed.  When  it  was  con 
cluded  he  added  O  Captain*  My  Captain,  and  a  few  other- 
pieces,  and  joining  them  to  the  previous  collection,  under  the 
title  of  a  SEQUEL  TO  DRUM-TAPS,  issued  both  groups  entire, 
as  his  lyrical  expression  of  the  war,  fitly  culminating  in  the 
piece,  "  IVbtn  Lilacs  last"  &c.,  as  the  epical  close  of  that 
dark  theme. 

The  main  effect  of  this  poem  is  of  strong  solemn  and 
varied  music;  and  it  involves  in  its  construction  a  principle 
after  which  perhaps  the  great  composers  most  work — 
namely,  spiritual  auricular  analogy.  At  first  it  would  seem 
to  defy  analysis,  so  rapt  is  it,  and  so  indirect.  No  reference 
whatever  is  made  to  the  mere  facts  of  Lincoln's  death ;  the 
poet  docs  not  even  dwell  upon  its  unprovoked  atrocity,  and 
only  occasionally  is  the  tone  that  of  lamentation ;  but,  with 
the  intuitions  of  the  grand  art,  which  is  the  most  complex 
when  it  seems  most  simple,  he  seizes  upon  three  beautiful 
facts  of  Nature,  which  he  weaves  into  a  wreath  for  the 
dead  President's  tomb.  The  central  thought  is  of  death, 
but  around  this  he  curiously  twines,  first  the  early  blooming 
lilacs  which  the  poet  may  have  plucked  the  day  the  dark 
shadow  came ;  next  the  song  of  the  hermit  thrush,  the  most 


sweet  and  solemn  of  all  our  songsters,  heard  at  twilight  in 
the  dusky  cedars  r  and  with  these  the  evening  star,  which, 
as  many  may  remember,  night  after  night  in  the  early  part 
of  that  eventful  spring,  hung  low  in  the  west  with  unusual 
and  tender  brightness.  These  are  the  premises  whence  he 
starts  his  solemn  chant. 

The  attitude,  therefore,  is  not  that  of  being  bowed  down 
and  weeping  hopeless  tears,  but  of  singing  a  commemorative 
hymn,  in  which  the  voices  of  Nature  join,  and  fits  that  ex 
alted  condition  of  the  soul  which  serious  events  and  the 
presence  of  death  induce.     There  arc  no  words  tf  mere 
^eulogy,  no  statistics,  and  no  story  or  narrative;  out  there 
are  pictures,  processions,  and  a  strange  mingling  of 'darkness 
and  light,  of  grief  and  triumph;  now  the  voice  of  the  bird, 
or  the  drooping  lustrous  star,  or  the  sombre  thought  of 
death ;  then  a  recurrence  to  the  open  scenery  of  the  land 
as  it  lay  in  the  April  light,  "the  summer  approaching  with 
richness   and   the    fields   all    busy  with    labor,"  presently 
dashed  in  upon  by  a  spectral  vision  of  armies  with  torn  and 
bloody  battle-flags — and  again,  of  the  white  skeletons  of 
young  men  long  afterward  strewing  the  ground.     Hence 
the  piece  has  little  or  nothing  of  the  character  of  the  usual 
productions  on  such  occasions.     It  is  dramatic;  yet  there  is 
no  development  of  plot,  but  a  constant  interplay,  a  turning 
and  returning  of  images  and  sentiments. 

The  poet  breaks  a  sprig  of  lilac  from  the  bush  in  the 
door-yard — the  dark  cloud  falls  on  the  land — the  long 
funeral  sets  out — and  then  the  apostrophe: 

•*  Coffin  that  passes  through  lanes  and  streets, 
Through  day  and  night,  with  the  great  cloud  darkening  the  land, 
With  the  pomp  of  the  inloopM  flags,  with  the  cities  draped  in  black, 
With  the  show  of  the  States  themselves,  as  of  crape-veiled  women, 
i  landing, 


With  processions  long  and  winding,  and  the  flambeaus  of  the  night, 
With  the  countless  torches  lit — with  the  silent  sea  of  faces,  and  the 

unbaird  heads, 

With  the  waiting  depot,  the  arriving  coffin,  and  the  sombre  faces, 
With  dirges  through  the  nigiit,  with  the  thousand  voices  ruing  strong 

and  solemn  j 

With  all  the  mournful  voices  of  the  dirges,  pourM  around  the  coffin, 
The  dim-lit  churches  and  the  shuddering  organs — Where  amid  these 

you  journey, 

With  the  tolling,  tolling  bells'  perpetual  clang j 
Here!  coffin  that  slowly  passes, 
I  give  you  my  sprig  of  lilac. 

(Nor  for  you,  for  one  alone; 

Blossoms  and  branches  green  to  coffins  all  I  bring ; 
For  fresh  as  the  morning — thus  would  I  chant  a  song  for  you,  O  sane 
and  sacred  death.  * 

All  over  bouquets  of  roses, 

O  death!  I  cover  you  over  with  roses  and  early  lilies; 

But  mostly  an  J  now  the  lilac  that  blooms  the  first, 

Copious,  I  break,  1  break  the  sprigs  from  the  bushes; 

With  loaded  arms  I  come,  pouring  for  you, 

For  you  and  the  coffins  all  of  you,  O  death.)'* 

Then  the  strain  goes  on: 

"O  how  shall  I  warble  myself  for  the  dead  one  there  I  loved? 
And  how  shall  I  deck  my  song  for  the  large  sweet  soul  that  has  gone? 
And  what  shall  my  perfume  be,  for  the  grave  of  him  I  love? 

Sea-winds,  blown  from  east  and  west, 

Blown  from  the  eastern  sea,  and  blown  from  the  western  sea,  till  there 

on  the  prairies  meeting: 

These,  and  with  these,  and  the  breath  of  my  chant, 
I  perfume  die  grave  of  him  I  love."  * 

The  poem  reaches,  perhaps,  its  height  in  the  matchless 
invocation  to  Death: 


"Come,  lovely  and  toothing  Death, 
Undulate  round  the  world,  serenely  arriving,  arriving, 
In  the  djy,  in  the  night,  to  all,  to  each, 

Sooner  or  later,  delicate  Death. 


Prais*d  be  the  fathomless  universe, 
For  life  and  joy,  and  for  objects  and  knowledge  carious; 
And  for  love,  sweet  love — but  praise !  O  praise  and  praise, 
For  the  sure-en  win  Jing  arms  of  cool-enfolding  Death. 

Dark  Mother,  always  gliding  near,  with  soft  feet, 
Have  none  chanted  for  thce  a  chant  of  fullest  welcome? 
Then  1  chant  it  for  thee — I  glorify  thee  above  all; 
1  bring  thee  a  song  that  when  thou  must  indeed  come,  come  unfalter 

Approach,  encompassing  Death — strong  Deliveress! 
When  it  is  so— when  thou  hast  taken  them,  I  joyously  sing  the  dead, 
Lost  in  the  loving,  floating  ocf  an  of  thee, 
Laved  in  the  blood  of  thy  blus,  O  Death. 

From  me  to  thee  glad  serenades, 

Dances  for  thce  I  propose,  saluting  thee-— adornments  and  feastings  for 

And  the  sights  of  the  open  landscape,  and  the  high-spread  sky  are 

And  life  and  the  fields,  and  the  huge  and  thoughtful  night. 

The  night,  in  silence,  under  many  a  star; 

The  ocean  shore,  and  the  husky  whispering  wave,  whose  voice  I  know; 

And  the  soul  turning  to  thee,  O  vast  and  wcll-veil'd  Death, 

And  the  body  gratefully  nestling  close  to  thee.** 


Leaving  this  most  remarkable  piece,  and  leaving  much 
else  in  the  book  that  might  be  elaborated,  the  dominant 
character  of  DRUM-TAPS,  to  my  apprehension,  resides  in 
that  part  of  the  spirit  pervading  the  whole,  which  is  shown 


more  definitely  in  such  pieces  as  Vigil  Strange  I  Kept  on  the 
Field  One  Night;  A  March  in  the  Ranks,  bard-pressed;  As 
Toilsome  I  Wandered  1'irginia's  Woods;  the  Dirge  for  Two 
I'ctcrans;  the  Hymn  of  Dead  Soldiers;  A  Sight  in  Camp  in 
the  Daybreak  Grey  and  Dim;  and  Pensive  I  Heard  the 
Mother  of  AIL  This  last  piece  I  cannot  refrain  from 
quoting,  as  in  it  is  contained  the  characteristic  purport  I 
have  alluded  to: 

MlVn>Jvr,  «>n  her  drad  gazing,  I  hrnrl  the  Mother  of  All, 
l>e.pcratc,  on  the  torn  budie*,  on  tlic  forms  covering  the  battle-field* 

gazing : 

As  r!>c  tall'd  to  her  ctrth  \viih  mournful  voice  while  the  stalk'di 
Al>'«»rb  tiif-m  well,  ()  my  c.irth,  »hc  cricil— I  ch.irjje  you,  lo»e  not  my 

«.  n  !  I-  e  iv  t  ,\\\  .;••  tp  j 

And  you  ktrc.irm,  absorb  them  well,  taking  their  l>!«KxJ  j 
And  you  local  spots,  and  you  airt  that  iwim  above  lightly, 
And  all  you  earners  of  toil  and  growth— and  you,  O  my  riven*  depths; 
And  you  mountain  tide* — and  the  woodi  where  my  dear  children's 

blood,  trickling,  rcdden'd; 

And  you  trees,  down  in  your  roots,  to  bequeath  to  all  future  trcci, 
My  dead  absorb— my  young  men's  beautiful  bodies  absorb— and  their 

prrcioui,  precious,  precious  blood} 
Which  holding  in  trust  for  me,  faithfully  back  again  give  me,  many  a 

year  hrnce, 

In  umeen  mcnre  and  odor  of  surr'ace  and  grass,  centuries  hence; 
In  blowing  .iir»  from  the  fields,  back  again  give  me  my  darlings— give 

my  immortal  heroes; 
Exhale  me  them  centuries  hence— breathe  me  their  breath— let  not  an 

atom  be  lost; 

•  O  years  and  graves!     O  air  and  coil!     O  my  dead,  an  aroma  sweet ! 
Exhale  them  perennial,  sweet  death,  yearn,  centuries  hence,'*  pieces,  putting  in  furm  that  nighc*t  and  widest,  yet 
unwritten,  part  of  the  war  necessarily  passing  away  with 


the  present  generation,  but  immeasurably  precious  as  a 
reminiscence  to  all  future  generations — the  quality  and  fresh 
earnestness  of  the  million  volunteers  of  1861— '5,  from 
the  families  of  the  common  people,  with  their  youth,  their 
general  personal  health  and  beauty — the  fact  that  they  were 
mainly  farmers'  sons  of  pure  American  stock — followed  by 
the  appaling  number  of  their  deaths  in  battle  and  from  ex 
ertion  and  exposure — those  myriad  unknown  deaths  and 
burials,  many  never  identified,  but  here  chanted  in  a  strain 
of  sadness,  yet  exultation,  that  will  live  while  the  land  has 
memory — these,  I  say,  form  the  crowning  trait  of  this  im 
portant  part  of  Walt  Whitman's  works. 

Indeed  I  venture  to  predict  that  what  is  here  contributed 
in  DRUM-TAPS  will  gradually  and  in  due  time  come  to  be 
accepted  as  the  vital  and  distinguishing  memento  through 
literature  of  the  late  war,  and  its  strongest  tic  with  the  ages 
to  come.  Those  ages  will  leave  the  volumes  of  the  histo 
rian  and  the  mountains  of  official  reports,  and  all  the  details 
of  military  tactics  and  manoeuvres,  and  will  dwell  with 
emotion  amid  what  this  man,  from  his  deepest  heart,  and 
out  of  the  sight  of  his  own  eyes,  has  sung  of  that  terrible 

No  other  opportunity  but  a  vast  and  ensanguined  war, 
and  a  personal  movement  in  it,  like  Walt  Whitman's,  as 
consoler,  confidant,  and  most  loving  support  to  hundreds 
,  of  wounded  and  dying  men,  most  of  them  very  young, 
could  have  drawn,  in  that  unprecedented  manner,  on  the 
soul,  for  sympathy  and  pity.  But  his  soul  met  these  de 
mands,  and  fully  responded  to  them.  Nor  has  poetry,  nor 
has  art  in  any  of  its  departments,  ever  received,  and  stamped 
in  an  enduring  form,  such  tenderness  for  suffering,  such 

107  love,  such  human  adhesion  to  human  sons  and 
brethren,  t»o  close,  »o  untiring,  u*  arc  by  this  man  put  in 
DRUM-TAPS.  The  mere  literary  part  of  their  construction, 
admirable  ns  It  is,  ninki  comparatively  into  nothing.  A 
new  emergency  is  met  by  a  new  support,  its  equal.  Hymns 
and  rapt  psalms  of  battle  and  death  chant  themselves  not  to 
(he  ear  or  intellect,  neither  of  which  can  help  ut  now,  but 
to  -.he  highest  perennial  quality  of  the  spirit.  In  the  midst 
of  the  wailing  is  the  tone  of  the  triumphal.  The  heart 
blccd.>  ttrangc,  sad,  yet  singularly  blissful  drops.  Out  of  the 
fearful  over  whelming  facts  of  the  anguish,  the  maiming,  and 
the  mutilation — out  of  sights  of  fields  of  blackening  corpses 
— our  own  brothers',  children's,  well-known  friends',  most 
unnatural  deaths,  we  arc  made  to  rise,  as  if  by  the  force  of 
heavenly  spells,  by  a  capacity  that  had  lain  slumbering  un 
suspected  within  us,  for  such  an  immense  exigency,  to  moods 
of  the  absolute,  the  universal,  the  ecstatic. 

Yet  all  so  common,  so  near!  The  great  truth  that  the 
men  :n  the  ranks  were  the  real  heroes  of  the  war — that 
they  bore  the  heat  and  burden,  and  won  the  prize — is  the 
marrow  of  the  poems.  Above  all,  he  sings  the  lost.  Each 
of  those  heroes,  though  dead  and  unnamed,  has  here  his  fit 
memorial.  The  young  saltling  from  bleak  Cape  Cod,  the 
Philadelphia  machinist,  the  farmer's  son  of  Michigan  or 
Illinois  or  Ohio — each  sent  down  by  fate  to  the  black 
mystery  of  dreaded  death — for  each  the  mother's,  sister's 
tears,  the  family  dismay — for  each  the  hurried  trench  upon 
the  field  at  night  by  truce  permitted;  yet  here,  by  this 
man's  art,  from  the  trench  raised,  redeemed,  bathed  with  a 
love,  a  brightness  warmer  and  clearer  than  the  sun's — with 
monument  for  every  one  as  high,  as  strong  as  poesy  can 


ever  build !  Such  for  the  dead  volunteer — such  from  Walt 
Whitman  for  the  fallen  soldier  of  the  ranks,  the  unknown 
demigod,  the  ardent  boy  of  1861  and- '2  and  '3! 

Sure  as  the  ages  roll,  America  will  not  forget  this  service. 
Sweeter  and  deeper,  as  time  continues,  will  these  powerful 
songs  approve  themselves,  and  the  precious  wealth,  the 
country's  own,  richer  than  California's  gold,  deposited  in 
them.  And  when  the  angry. hatreds  of  the  struggle  shall 
have  passed  away  and  become  altogether  forgotten — when 
our  nation,  thoroughly  fused,  and  after  a  long  career,  forms 
really  a  history  for  itself — and  when  the  vcncrablcncss  of 
time,  and  of  more  than  one  generation,  shall  have  furnished 
a  retrospective  vista  through  which  these  pieces  can  be 
gazed  on,  and  read,  and  felt,  to  the  fathom  of  themselves — 
I'  see  how  the  quality  resident  in  them,  looming  through 
the  haze  of  the  past,  full  of  the  inexpressible  associations 
of  that  strange,  sad  war,  will  have  effects  on  such  American, 
Southern  or  Northern,  who  reads,  or  hears  them  read,  as 
never  yet  have  been  surpassed  by  bard,  or  work  of  art,  on 

Join,  «*7I. 


NEARLY  five  years  have  elapsed  since  the  foregoing  Notes 
were  put  to  press,  bringing  their  statements  down  to  the  lat 
ter  part  of  1866.  The  current  year,  1871,  introduces  a 
still  newer  and  fuller  edition  of  Walt  Whitman's  poetry, 
and  also  a  prose  essay,  DEMOCRATIC  VISTAS,  in  pamphlet 
form,  on  critical,  literary,  and  political  topics.  I  have  the 
author's  express  authority  for  averring  that  this,  the  fifth 
edition  of  LEAVES  OF  GRASS,  is  the  final  one.  In  it  the  con 
secutive  order  is  changed  and  improved  from  the  volume  of 
1866-7  which  had  formed  the  basis  of  the  preceding  essay  ; 
yet  the  new  one  seems  to  me  so  essentially  the  same,  as  far 
as  it  includes  the  old  pieces,  the  trunk  of  the  book,  that 
after  a  careful  examination  I  reiterate  and  apply  the  pre 
vious  Notes,  as  far  as  they  go,  to  this  last  and  permanent 
edition  of  1871-2. 

LEAVES  OF  GRASS  now  open  with  several  pages,  of  In 
scriptions,  instead  of  the  single  piece  copied  on  page  23  of 
these  Notes,  which  is  altered  somewhat,  but  most  of  it  re 
tained.  The  Inscriptions  form  a  regular  and  varied  over 
ture,  of  which  the  last  or  closing  passage  apostrophizes  the 
cause  of  Liberty  or  progress  : 

Thou  orb  of  many  orbs  ! 

Thou  seething  principle !   Thou  well-kept,  latent  germ  !  Thou  centre ! 

Around  the  idea  of  thee  the  strange  sad  v/ar  revolving, 

With  all  its  angry  and  vehement  play  of  causes, 

(With  yet  unknown  results  to  come,  for  thrice  a  thousand  yean,) 

These  recitatives  for  thee — my  Book  and  the  War  are  one, 

Merged  in  its  spirit  I  and  mine — as  the  contest  hinged  on  thee, 

A  •  a  wheel  on  its  axis  turns,  this  B<x  k,  unwitting  to  itself, 

Around  the  Idea  of  thee. 


And  in  several  other  poems  the  idea  that  the  late  Seces 
sion  War  furnishes  the  historical  basis  or  event  on  which 
the  whole'  work  stands  is  in  like  manner  presented. 

All  ihc  old  clusters  and  single  pieces,  Starting  from  Pau- 
manok,  IPa/t  If  bit  man  >  Children  of  Adam,  Calamus,  Salut 
an  MoftJf,  Tit  Unad-Axe,  Tie  Of>fn  Read,  Son?,  of  Offu* 
pat  ions  t  Drum-Taps,  Blue  Ontario' t  Shre,  Pioneers,  Songs 
of  Parting,  &c.,  &c.,  arc  duly  marshaled  here,  with  some 
new  combinations,  Bathed  in  War*!  Perfume,  Songs  cf 
Inturredhn,  intcrpersed  every  now  and  then  with  lesser  or 
larger  collections  of  Leaves  of  Grass. 


The  additional  section  or  cluster,  PASSAGE  TO  INDIA, 
takes  its  name  from  the  leading  piece.  On  the  title-page 
are  these  lines: 

Gliding  o'er  all,  through  all, 
Through  Nature,  Time,  and  Space, 
At  a  Ship  on  the  waten  advancing, 
The  Voyage  of  the  Soul— not  Life  alone, 
Death— many  Death*,  I  ling. 

The  opening  piece  itself,  Passage  to  India,  combining  the 
qualities  of  lyric,  epic,  and  hymn,  takes  for  its  basis  the 
facts  of  exploration  and  the  principal  modern  engineering 
works,  the  electric  telegraph,  the  Suez  canal,  and  the  Pacific 
railroad,  and  celebrates  that  immemorial  search  after  the 
route  to  India  which  has  played  a  leading  part  in  history, 
and  caused  the  discovery  of  America. 

A  worihip  new,  I  lingj 

You  captains,  voyagers,  explorer*,  youn ! 

You  engineer! !  you  architect*,  machinitti,  youn  I 

You,  not  for  trade  or  transportation  only, 

Dut  in  Ood'i  name,  and  for  thy  take,  O  tout, 

But  while  chanting  there,  the  poet  demands — and  this  is 
his  real  purport — an  exploration,  a  voyage  toward  another 


India,  the  metaphysical  one,  the  mother  of  transcendental 
ism,  and  source  of  Bibles  : 

Passage  indeed,  O  soul,  to  primal  thought ! 
Not  lands  and  seas  alone — thy  own  clear  freshness, 
The  young  maturity  of  brood  and  bloom ; 
;     To  realms  of  budding  bibles. 

O  soul,  repressless,  I  with  thee,  and  thou  with  me, 

Thy  circumnavigation  of  the  world  begin ; 

Of  man,  the  voyage  of  his  mind's  return, 

To  reason's  early  paradise, 

Back,  back  to  wisdom's  birth,  to  innocent  intuitions, 

Again  with  fair  Creation. 

In  the  latter  part  of  the  piece  arc  several  stanzas  apos 
trophizing  Deity,  in  figures  entirely  new  to  European  the 
ology  : 

Reckoning  ahead,  O  soul,  when  thou,  the  time  achiev'd, 
(The  seas  all  cross *d,  weather'd  the  capes,  the  voyage  done,) 
Surrounded,  copest,  frontest  God,  yieldest,  the  aim  attained, 
As,  lili'd  with  friendship,  love  complete,  the  Elder  Brother  found, 
The  Younger  melts  in  fondness  in  his  arms. 

Then  follow  various  distinct  collections  or  pieces,  di 
rectly  or  indirectly  relating  to  Death  :  Proud  Music  of  tbf 
Storm,  Ashes  of  Soldier's,  President  Lincoln's  Burial  Hymn, 
Poem  of  Joys,  the  Square  Deifc,  Whispers  of  Heavenly  Death, 
Sea-Shore  Memories,  some  Leaves  of  Grass,  ending  with  a 
little  collection  called  Finale  to  the  Shore. 

The  amount  of  the  author's  design  in  this  crowning  part 
or  collection  as  a  whole,  is  perhaps  conveyed  by  these  lines  : 

Through  Space  and  Time  fused  in  a  chant,  and  the  flowing,  eternal 

To  Nature,  encompassing  these,  encompassing  God— to  the  joyous  elec 
tric  All. 

To  the  sense  of  Death-— and  accepting,  exulting  in  Death,  in  its  turn,  the 
same  as  lifts, 

The  entrance  of  Man  I  sing. 

In  other  words,  the  entire  volume,  as  it  now  stands,  with 


the  pieces  of  PASSAGE  TO  IND«A  included,  is  an  expression, 
more  decidedly  than  before,  of  that  combination  in  which 
Death  and  the  Unknown  are  as  essential  and  important  to 
the  author's  plan  of  a  complete  human  Personality  as  Life 
and  the  Known. 


There  is  probably  no  analogous  case  in  the  history  of  lit 
erature  where  the  result  of  a  profound  artistic  plan  or  con 
ception — first  launched  forth,  and  briefly,  yet  sufficiency 
exemplified,  as  in  the  small  volume  of  the  LEAVES  of  1855, 
taking  for  foundation  Man  in  his  fulness  of  blood,  power, 
amativeness,  health,  physique,  and  as  standing  in  the  midst 
of  the  objective  world — a  plan  so  steadily  adhered  to,  yet 
so  audaciously  and  freely  built  out  of  and  upon,  and  with 
such  epic  consistency,  after  that  start  of  185$,  developed  in 
'57,  *6o,  and  '66,  in  successive  moral,  esthetic,  and  religious 
stage*,  each  absorbing  the  previous  ones,  but  striding  on  far 
ahead  of  them — gradually  made  more  and  more  emotional, 
meditative,  patriotic — vitalized,  heated  to  almost  unbearable 
fervency  by  the  author's  personal  part  in  the  war,  compos 
ing  his  songs  of  it  in  actual  contact  with  its  subjects,  on  the 
very  field,  or  surrounded  by  the  wounded  "  after  the  battle 
brought  in  " — chanting  undismayed  the  strong  chant  of  the 
Inseparable  Union,  amid  the  vehement  crises  and  stormy 
dangers  of  the  period  ;  and  so  gradually  arriving  at  the  com 
pleted  book  of  1871-2,  and  crowning  all  in  it  with  the 
electric  and  solemn  poems  of  death  and  immortality — has 
so  justified,  and  beyond  measure  justified,  its  first  ambitious 
plan  and  promise.* 

*  Yet  a  very  high  authority — perhaps  the  highest  literary  authority  of 
the  land — would  appear  to  hold  a  different  opinion.  The  first  and  partial 
appearance  of  LEAVES  or  GRASS,  in  1855,  brought  out  the  following  let 
ter,  alluded  to  on  pages  16  and  19,  preceding.  I  find  it  on  file  in  the  N. 
T.  Tribune  of  that  period  : 

CONCORD,  MASS.,  July  21,  1855. 

DEAR  SIR — I  am  not  blind   to  the  worth  of  the  vonderful  gift  of 


The  history  of  the  book,  thus  considered,  not  only  re 
sembles  and  tallies,  in  certain  respects,  the  development  of 
the  great  System  of  Idealistic  Philosophy  in  Germany,  by 
the  "  illustrious  four  " — except  that  the  development  of 
LEAVES  OF  GRASS  has  been  carried  on  within  the  region  of 
a  single  mind, — but  it  is  to  be  demonstrated,  by  study  and 
comparison,  that  the  same  theory  of  the  essential  identity 
of  the  spiritual  and  material  worlds,  the  shows  of  nature,  the 
progress  of  civilization,  the  play  of  passions,  the  human  in 
tellect,  and  the  relations  between  it  and  the  concrete  uni 
verse,  which  Kant  prepared  the  way  for,  and  Fichte,  Schel- 
ling,  and  Hegel  have  given  expression  and  statement  in 
their  system  of  transcendental  Metaphysics — this  author 

••  LEAVES  or  GRASS."  I  find  it  the  most  extraordinary  piece  of  wit  and 
wisdom  that  America  has  yet  contributed.  I  am  very  happy  in  reading 
it,  as  great  power  makes  us  happy.  It  meets  the  demand  I  am  always 
making  of  what  seemed  the  sterile  and  stingy  Nature,  as  if  too  much 
handiwork,  or  too  much  lymph  in  the  temperament,  were  making  our 
Western  wits  fat  and  mean. 

1  give  you  joy  of  your  free  and  brave  thought.  I  have  great  joy  in  it. 
I  find  incomparable  things  said  incomparably  well,  as  they  must  be.  I 
find  the  courage  of  treatment  which  so  delights  us,  and  which  large  per 
ception  only  can  inspire. 

I  greet  you  at  the  beginning  of  a  great  career,  which  yet  must  have  had 
a  long  foreground  somewhere,  for  such  a  start.  I  rubbed  my  eyes  a  little 
to  see  if  this  sunbeam  were  no  illusion ;  but  the  solid  sense  of  the  book 
is  a  sober  certainty.  It  has  the  best  merits ;  namely,  of  fortifying  and  en 

I  did  not  know,  until  I  last  night  saw  the  book  advertised  in  a  newt- 
paper,  that  I  could  trust  the  name  as  real  and  available  for  a  postofficc. 
1  wish  to  see  my  benefactor,  and  have  felt  much  like  striking  my  tasks  and 
visiting  New  York  to  pay  you  my  respects. 


Per  contra.  I  read  in  the  current  journals — January,  1871 — reports 
of  a  lecture  delivered  at  Detroit,  Michigan,  in  which  Mr.  Emerson  is  re 
ported  to  have  said : 

••  Walt  Whitman  in  hu  first  effort*  gave  very  high  promise,  but  he  ha* 
not  fulfilled  it  since.** 

It  will  be  for  the  future  to  decide  which  of  theie  if  the  lasting  judg 
ment  and  more  acute  criticism. 


has,  with  equal  entirety,  expressed  and  stated  in  LEAVES  OP 
GRASS,  from  a  poet's  point  of  view— singing  afresh,  out  of 
it,  the  song  of  the  visible  and  invisible  worlds-— renewing, 
reconstructing,  consistently  with  the  modern  genius,  and 
deeper  and  wider  than  ever,  the  promises  of  immortality — 
endowing  the  elements  of  faith  and  pride  with  a  vigor  and 
entemble  before  unknown— and  furnishing  to  the  measure 
less  audience  of  humanity  the  only  great  Imaginative  Work 
it  yet  possesses,  in  which  the  objective  universe  and  Man, 
his  soul,  are  observed  and  outlined,  and  the  theory  of  Hu 
man  Personality  and  Character  projected,  from  the  ante 
rior  and  hidden,  but  absolute  background,  of  that  magnificent 
System.  For  as  Walt  Whitman  now  unfolds  his  full  design, 
it  is  clear  that  after  his  enormous  materialism,  his  amative- 
ness,  and  his  intense  realistic  qualities,  and  his  advancing 
over  everything  else,  as  we  supposed,  of  the  animal  body 
and  its  appetites,  he  uses  them  mainly  as  doors  or  founda 
tions  for  something  else,  and  is  finally  the  poet  of  the  abso 
luteness  of  Spirit. 

"  There  is  nothing  but  Immortality, 
The  exquisite  scheme  is  all  for  it; 
And  Life  and  Death  are  for  it." 

Is  it  to  be  wondered  at  that  he  is  not  understood  when 
read  as  other  books  are  read  ?  In  the  usual  sense,  he  has 
no  plot ;  but  in  the  largest  sense  he  includes  all  plots. 
While  the  objects  and  events  of  the  universe,  as  affecting 
the  human  spirit  and  identity,  arc  treated  by  other  writers 
from  absolute  standards,  they  are  invariably  treated  by  him 
as  only  relative  and  evanescent,  and  on  the  theory  that — 

"  The  real  something  has  yet  to  be  known." 

He  sings  always  spiritual  elevations.  The  boot-black, 
the  beggar,  the  old  woman,  whom  other  writers  mention 
most  in  irony  or  burlesque,  he  sees  as  immortal  souls,  and  in 
cludes  them  in  his  poems.  Depicting  Man  under  passional, 
corporeal,  and  scientific  conditions,  and  with  an  exhaustless 


wealth  of  illustration  from  the  shows,  forms,  colors,  identi 
ties,  of  the  objective  world,  his  chief  characteristics  of 
treatment,  an  unprecedented  iftidhcsjveness>and  Sublimity, 
mainly  with  reference  to  the  future,  envelop  all  his  dif 
ferent  parts  like  light,  and  comprehend  and  bind  them  into 
a  whole.  With  his  copiou.^ness  and  luxuriance,  and  his 
endless  processions,  no  other  port  is  so  severe;  with  vastest 
complications,  none  else  is  so  simple.  Tropes,  conceits,  he 
never  uses.  His  incidents  are  few,  though  when  and 
wherever  brought  in  they  tell  like  ordnance  in  battle.  He 
always  produces  or  suggests  dilation ;  seldom  the  limited ; 
never  the  petty.  As  Johnson  said  of  Milton  :  "His genius 
can  hew  a  colossus  out  of  a  rock,  but  cannot  carve  heads 
on  cherry-stones." 

The  Book,  in  all  respects,  as  completed,  is  peculiarly  the 
song  of  this  Nineteenth  Century  of  ours — the  most  import 
ant  period,  perhaps,  in  known  history.  It  is  true  the  rapid 
and  manifold  advances,  improvements,  discoveries,  and 
weighty  political  and  historical  changes  of  the  century, 
covering  so  wide  a  field,  and  in  such  whelming  variety  over 
the  civilized  world,  are  impossible  to  be  narrated  in  a  Poem. 
But  what  can  be  absorbed  and  realized  by  one  Personality 
in  the  midst  of  our  age,  fully  aware  of  its  important  events 
and  fully  accepting  them,  and  radiating  the  spirit  of  them, 
Walt  Whitman,  to  all  intents  and  purposes,  has  put  in  this 

That  part  of  it  definitely  put  in  words  in  the  piecc_^// 
/'/  Truth  is  perhsps  the  hardest  puzzle,  and  will  longest  con 
tinue  to  excite  repugnance.  For  it  is  not  mere  optimism 
that  underlies  the  mind  of  the  author.  His  conclusion, 
after  examining  the  contradictions  of  the  universe,  as  indi 
cated  by  the  avowal — 

"  All  is  truth  without  exception, 

And  henceforth  I  will  go  celebrate  anything  I  see  or  am, 
And  sing  and  laugh,  and  deny  nothing" — 

defies  criticism — as  indeed  much  of  the  .work  does — and 


opens  unplcasing  possibilities.  Considered  in  this  respect, 
the  book, like  the  world  itself,  is  a  contradictory  mixture,! 
complication — a  magazine,  or  arsenal,  whence  not  the  good 
only  will  get  weapons,  but  doubtless  the  bad  also.  i.t_Ji 
every  way  likely  that  many  of  the  passages  of  it  will  be 
perverted,  misconstrued  to  evil,  and  will  perhaps  be  made 
the  text  for  avowed  impurity. 


With  respect  to  Children  of  Adam,  and  the  occasional 
vein  of  thought  and  allusion  throughout  the  whole  book  on 
which  so  much  stress  has  been  laid — in  addition  to  what 
has  been  said  in  preceding  pages  27,  28  and  29  -I  copy 
from  "  A  Woman's  Estimate  of  Walt  ll'bitnan"  written  in 
England,  in  letters  to  W.  M.  Rossetti,  (see  page  5  :) 


I  shall  quite  fearlessly  accept  your  kind  otter  of  the  loan  of  a 

complete  edition,  certain  that  great  and  divinely  beautiful  nature  hui  not, 
could  not  infuse  any  poison  into  the  wine  he  has  poured  out  for  us.  And 
as  for  what  you  specially  allude  to,  who  so  well  able  to  bear  it — I  wilt 
•ay,  to  judge  wisely  of  it — as  one  who,  having  been  a  happy  wife  and 
mother,  has  learn-d  to  accept  all  things  with  tenderness,  to  feel  a  sacred- 
ness  in  all  ?  Perhaps  Walt  Whitman  has  forgotten— or,  through  some 
theory  in  his  head,  has  overridden — the  truth  that  our  instincts  are  beau 
tiful  facts  of  nature,  as  well  as  our  bodies ,  and  that  we  have  a  strong  in 
stinct  of  silence  about  some  things. 

You  argued  rightly  that  my  confidence  would  not  be  betrayed 

by  any  of  the  poems  in  this  book.  None  of  them  troubled  me  even  for 
a  moment;  because  I  saw  at  a  glance  that  it  was  not,  as  men  had  sup 
posed,  the  heights  brought  down  to  the  depth*,  but  the  depths  lifted  up 
level  with  the  sunlit  heights,  that  they  might  become  clear  and  sunlit  too. 
Always,  for  a  woman,  a  veil  woven  out  or  her  own  soul — never  touched 
upon  even,  with  a  rough  hand,  by  this  poet.  But,  for  a  man,  a  daring, 
fearless  pride  in  himself,  not  *  mock-modesty  woven  out  of  delusions — 
a  very  poor  imitation  of  a  woman's.  Do  they  not  see  that  this  fearless 
pride,  this  complete  acceptance  of  themselves,  is  needful  for  her  pride, 
her  justification  ?  What !  is  it  all  so  ignoble,  so  base,  that  it  will  not  bear 
the  honest  light  of  speech  from  lips  so  gifted  with  "  the  divine  power  to 
use  words  ?"  Then  what  hateful,  bitter  humiliation  for  her,  to  have  to 
give  herself  up  to  the  reality  !  Do  you  think  there  is  ever  a  bride  who 


docs  not  taste  more  or  less  this  bitterness  in  her  cup  ?  But  who  put  it 
there  >  It  must  surely  be  man'*  fault,  not  God's,  that  she  has  to  say  to 
herself",  '*  Soul,  look  another  way — you  have  no  part  in  this.  Mother 
hood  is  beautiful,  fatherhood  is  beautiful ;  but  the  dawn  of  fatherhood 
and  motherhood  is  not  beautiful."  Do  they  really  think  that  God  is 
ashamed  of  what  he  has  made  and  appointed  ?  And,  if  not,  surely  it  is 
somewhat  superfluous  that  they  should  undertake  to  be  so  for  him. 

"  The  full-spread  pride  of  man  is  calming  and  excellent  to  the  soul," 

Of  a  woman  above  all.  It  is  true  that  instinct  of  silence  I  spoke  of  is  a 
beautiful,  imperishable  part  of  nature  too.  Dut  it  is  not  beautiful  when 
it  means  an  ignominious  shame  brooding  darkly.  Shame  is  like  a  very 
flexible  \cil,  that  follows  faithfully  the  shape  of  what  it  covers, — beauti 
ful  when  it  hides  a  beautiful  thing,  ugly  when  it  hides  an  ugly  one.  It 
has  not  covered  what  was  beautiful  here  j  it  has  covered  a  mean  distrust 
of  a  man's  iclf  and  of  his  Creator.  It  was  needed  that  this  silence,  this 
evil  (pell,  should  for  once  Lc  broken,  and  the  daylight  let  in,  that  the 
dark  cloud  l)ing  under  might  be  scattered  to  the  winds.  It  was  needed 
that  one  who  could  here  indicate  for  us  "  the  path  between  reality  and 
the  soul  "  should  speak.  That  is  what  these  beautiful,  despised  poems, 
the  Children  of  Adam  do,  read  by  the  light  that  glows  out  of  the  rest  of 
the  volume  :  »ight  of  a  clear,  strong  faith  in  God,  of  an  unfathomably 
deep  and  tender  love  for  humanity, — light  shed  out  of  a  soul  that  is  "  pos 
sessed  of  itself." 

*'  Natural  life  of  me  faithfully  praising  things, 
Corroborating  for  ever  the  triumph  of  things." 

Now  silence  may  brood  again  \  but  lovingly,  happily,  as  protecting  what 
is  beautiful,  not  as  hiding  what  is  unbeautiful;  consciously  enfolding  a 
sweet  and  sacred  mystery — august  even  as  the  mystery  of  Death,  the 
dawn  as  the  setting ;  kindred  grandeurs,  which  to  eyes  that  are  opened 
shed  a  (.allowing  beauty  on  all  that  surrounds  and  preludes  them. 

"  O  vase  and  \vcll-vciled  Death  ! 

"  O  the  beautiful  touch  of  Death,  soothing  and  benumbing  a  few  mo 
ments,  for  reasons !" 

He  who  can  thus  look  with  fearlessness  at  the  beauty  of  Death  may 
well  dare  to  teach  us  to  look  with  fearless,  untroubled  eyes  at  the  perfect 
beauty  of  Love  in  all  its  appointed  realizations.  Now  none  need  turn 
away  their  thoughts  with  pain  or  shame}  though  only  lovers  and  poets 
may  say  what  they  will, — the  lover  to  his  own,  the  poet  to  all,  bccaus- 
all  are  in  a  sense  his  own.  None  need  fear  that  this  will  be  harmful  to 
the  woman.  How  should  there  be  such  a  flaw  in  the  scheme  of  creation 
that,  for  the  two  with  whom  there  is  no  complete  life,  save  in  closest 


sympathy,  perfect  union,  what  u  natural  and  happy  for  the  one  should  be 
baneful  to  the  other?  The  utmost  faithful  freedom  of  speech,  such  at 
there  is  in  these  poems,  creates  in  her  no  thought  or  feeling  that  shuns 
the  light  of  heaven,  none  that  are  not  as  innocent  and  serenely  fair  as  the 
flowers  that  grow;  would  lead,  not  to  harm,  but  to  such  deep  and  tender 
affection  as  makes  harm  or  the  thought  of  harm  simply  impo  sible. 

This  i>  so,  though  it  is  little  understood  or  realized  by  men.  Wives 
and  mothers  will  learn  through  this  poet  that  there  is  rejoicing  grandeur 
and*  beauty  there  wherein  their  hearts  have  so  longed  to  rind  it ;  where 
foolish  men,  traitors  to  themselves,  poorly  comprehending  the  grandeur  of 
their  own  or  the  beauty  of  a  woman's  nature,  have  taken  such  paini  to 
make  her  believe  there  was  none, — nothing  but  miserable  discrepancy. 

v.     • 


I  Detractors  and  the  coldly  correct  have  charged — and  the 
|  charge  will  probably  continue — that  this  poet  is  wild,  irreg 
ular,  and  sometimes  raves.  Jn  certain  moods,  I  admit,  he 
abandons  all  conventional  and  merely  literary  tics — and  in 
deed  all  ties  except  those  of  the  ecstasy  of  the  moment ; 
but  the  sentences  then  uttered  have  deepest  meaning,  and 
are  never  lost  to  his  firm  control.  "  Whatever  man,"  says 
Plato,  "  altogether  untouched  with  the  Muse's  frenzy,  at 
tempts  to  enter  the  palace  of  Poesy  and  achieve  works 
therein,  neither  that  man  nor  his  works  will  ever  attain 
perfection  ;  but  they  are  destined,  for  all  their  cold  pro 
priety,  to  be  eclipsed  by  the  utterances  of  some  inspired 

But  Walt  Whitman  is  no  madman  ;  rather,  the  sanest  of 
any.  Aft-r  all,  he  but  continues  the  divine  and  eternal 
dynasty  of  poets,  and  in  the  direct  line.  The  old  power, 
virtue,  expansion,  grafted  on  modernness,  are  what  he  stands 
for.  Aristotle  said  the  real  intention  of  Homer's  verse  was 
doubtless  to  construct  strong  and  hardy  models  for  the  state, 
for  purposes  of  war.  In  LEAVES  OP  GRASS,  as  in  DEMOCRATIC 
VISTAS,  and  their  author  himself,  I  find  the  universal  basis  of 
flesh  and  blood,  chemical,  with  iron  and  lime,  the  same 
elements  as  everywhere,  yet  advanced  by  many  stages,  en 
tirely  modern,  with  reference  to  peace  and  not  war,  with  a 


moral,  religious,  interior  Democracy,  stronger,  more  gener 
ous  than  ever,  for  service  for  individual  character  in  the 
New  World. 

For  to  finish  the  criticism,  it  is  as  an  expression  and 
faithful  reflex,  under  such  modern-  and  democratic  condi 
tions,  of  a  single  complete  Human  Being — that  beginning 
and  end  of  everything,  an  embodied  Soul — that  LEAVES  OF 
GRASS  touches  each  reader,  and  comes  home  to  him  or  her 
most  closely.  Hitherto,  the  great  poets — as  Homer,  JEs- 
chylus,  Shakespeare — borne  on  the  wings  of  their  genius, 
(see  extract  from  St.-Bcuve,  page  8,)  have  narrated,  sung 
incidents,  woven  the  passions,  with  complicated  plots  of 
war,  love,  epics,  tragedies,  and  the  like.  But  in  Walt  Whit 
man's  pages  it  is,  in  short,  only  himself,  a  Man,  and  type 
of  a  New  Race  of  men,  that  the  author  gives  us.  This  is 
tfic  spinal  marrow  of  the  various  poems,  and,  whatever  the 
difference  of  theme,  makes  them  essentially  one.  And  from 
this,  the  statement  of  the  personality  of  the  man  himself,  in 
my  mind,  becomes  of  first  importance. 

In  such  personality  —  by  which  I  mean  also  his  life, 
character,  attitude  toward  and  amid  his  times,  his  country, 
and  the  events  thereof — his  behavior,  faults,  as  we'll  as 
merits — I  find  lessons  fully  as  significant,  in  their  way,  as 
those  afforded  by  his  writings.  I  say  fault*  ;  for  upon  due 
analysis,  we  discover  every  case  of  marked  and  resplendent 
individualism  to  be  a  composition,  a  paradox.  Can  there 
be  strong  lights  without  shades — mountain  peaks  without 
intervening  chasms  ?  Walt  Whitman  himself  has  warned 
me  that  my  essay  was  seriously  deficient  in  not  containing 
this  distinct  admission  applied  to  him.  "  My  friends,"  he 
said,  "  arc  blind  to  the  real  devils  that  are  in  me.  My 
enemies  discover  fancy  ones.  I  perceive  in  clear  moments 
that  my  work  is  not  the  accomplishment  of  perfections, 
but  destined,  I  hope,  always  to  arouse  an  unquenchable  feel 
ing  and  ardor  for  them.  It  is  out  of  struggle  and  turmoil 
I  have  written." 

To  the  objection,  since  the  appearance  of  the  first  edition 


of  these  Notes,  against  my  giving  space  in  them  to  a  per 
sonal  portraiture  and  biography  of  the  poet  in  his  own  life 
time,  I  therefore  oppose  an  emphatic  feeling,  the  result  of 
much  deliberation  and  the  experience  of  several  years,  that 
in  the  preceding  pages  I  have  not  said  too  much  on  thnse 
particulars,  but  far  too  little.     It  is  mostly  as  a  physical  be 
ing,  a  practical  citizen,  and  his  combination  of  qualities  es 
such  in  the  Nineteenth  Century  and  in  the  United  States, 
that  I  find  him,  to  use  Carlylc's  phrase,  "  A  man  furnished 
for  the  highest  of  all  enterprises — that  of  being  the  poet  of 
his  age."    And  if  that  age,  or  if  future  ages,  will  not  under 
stand  LEAVES  OF  GRASS,  or  will  understand  them  with  diffi 
culty,  my  conviction  is  that  it  is  mainly  because  there  exists 
no  true  and  complete,  but  either  an  entirely  defective  or 
incredibly  false  and  vicious  conception,  or  want  of  con 
ception,  in  society,   of  the   author   personally.     Indeed,  1 
doubt  whether  Walt  Whitman's  writings  can  be  realized, 
except  through  first  knowing  or  getting  a  true  notion  of  the 
corporeal  man  and  his  manners,  and  coming  in  rapport  with 
them.       His  form,   physiognomy,   gait,   vocalization — the 
very  touch  of  him,  and  the  glance  of  his  eyes  upon  you — 
sH-  have  closely  to  do  with   the   subtlest   meaning  of   his 
verse.     His  manners  exemplify  his  book.     Even  a  knowl 
edge  of  his  ancestry,  with   the  theory  he  entertains,  and 
which  is  justified  by  his  own  case,  of  what  he  calls  "  the 
best  motherhood,"  would  light  up  many  portions   of  his 

[The  ancestry  of  Walt  Whitman,  on  both  the  paternal 
and  maternal  sides,  shows  him  to  have  come  of  good  stock, 
in  a  sense  which  correspond*  with  the  theory  of  his  book, 
and  his  own  character.  They  appear,  a*  I  trace  them  back 
through  four  or  five  generation*,  (sec  paj^cs  77,  '8,  '9,  pre 
ceding,)  to  have  heen  ft'jffi*  iewly  provided  with  the  world's 
gear  ;  p,avc  their  children  *n  equation  above  the  average, 
kept  a  j',ood  tabl*,  au*fa'w'l  the  hospitalities,  decorums,  and 
an  excellent  social  reputation  irt  the  county,  yet  were  often 
of  marked  individuality,  If  *p4<  c  permitted,  I  should  con- 


sidcr  some  of  the  men  worthy  special  description ;  and 
still  more  some  of  the  women.  His  great-grandmother  on 
the  paternal  side,  for  instance,  was  a  large  swarthy  woman, 
who  lived. to  a  very  old  age.  She  smoked  tobacco,  rode  on 
horseback  like  a  man,  managed  the  most  vicious  horse,  and, 
becoming  a  widow  in  later  life,  went  forth  every  day  over 
her  (arm-lands,  frequently  in  tfr£  saddle,  directing  the  labor 
of  her  slaves,  with  language  in  which,  on  exciting  occasions, 
oaths  were  not  spared.  The  two  immediate  grandmothers 
of  the  poet  were,  in  the  best  sense,  superior  women.  The 
maternal  one  was  a  Friend,  or  Quakeress,  of  sweet,  sensible 
character,  housewifely  proclivities,  and  deeply  intuitive  and 
spiritual.  The  other,  (Hannah  Brush,  before  marriage,) 
was  an  equally  noble,  but  stronger  character,  lived  to  be 
very  old,  had  quite  a  family  of  sons,  was  a  natural  lady, 
was  in  early  life  a  school-mistress,  and  had  great  solidity  of 
mind.  The  poet  himself  makes  much  of  the  women  of 
his  ancestry.  He  never  speaks  of  his  own  mother  but  as 
41  dear  mother,"  his  face  flush  with  yearning  and  pride.] 


The  man,  indeed,  personally  a.*  much  as  in  his  book, 
foreruns  the  future.  Tr'cd  by  the  conventional  standards  of 
the  London  or  Boston  of  to-day,  as  his  words  are  a  stum 
bling-block,  he  himself  is  an  offence.  He  is  top  free,  too 
original,  too  acceptive  of  evil  as  well  as  good,  of  the  flesh 
as  well  as  the  mind,  and  too  scornfully  ignores  their  whole 
category  of  priggish  godlings  and  kinks.  His  full-blooded- 
ness  and  enormous  sense  of  objective  nature  would  doubtless 
overwhelm  and  crush  him,  were  they  not  resisted  and  coun 
terbalanced  by  his  equally  enormous  egoism,  his  subjective 
and  soul  quality — both  together  radiating  constantly  from 
his  presence,  in  room,  car,  or  street.  This  is  what  renders 
him  at  times  stronger  than  they  can  stand,  to  the  routine, 
sophisticated  classes ;  while  the  same  makes  him  take  like  a 
charm  with  illiterate  people,  farmers,  workingmcn,  sailors, 
and  also  healthy  women,  the  very  young  and  old,  and  with 
high-born  foreigners — a  case  where  extremes  meet.  The 

sight  of  him  walking  the  sidewalk — his  accustomed  slow, 
yet  alert  and  cheery  gait,  in  New  York,  Brooklyn,  New 
Orleans,  or  Washington,  ought  to  he  the  best  preparation 
for  the  reading  of  his  LEAVES,  or  VISTAS,  and  effectually  dis 
arm,  in  advance,  the  objections  that  have  been  got  up 
against  him. 

[An  eye-witness  and  participator  related,  in  a  letter  from 
Washington,  to  a  friend,  the  following  anecdote  of  Abra 
ham  Lincoln,  (alluded  to  on  pa^re  85  :) 

"  It  was  in  the  winter-time,  I  think  in  '64,  I  went  up  to 
the  White  Hou*e  with  a  friend  of  mine,  an  M.  C.,  who 
had  some  business  with  the  President.      He  had  gone  out, 
so  we  didn't  stop  ;  but  coming  down  stairs,  quite  near  the 
door,  we  met  the  President  coming  in,  and   we  stept  back 
into  the  East  Room,  and  stood  near  the  front  windows, 
where  my  friend   had  a  confab  with   him.     It  didn't  last 
more  than  three  or  four  minutes  ;  but  there  was  something 
about  a  letter  which  my  friend  had   handed  the   President, 
and  Mr.  Lincoln  had  read  it,  and  was  holding  it  in  his  hand 
like  one  thinking  it  over,  and  looking  out  of  the  window, 
when  Walt  Whitman  went  by,  on  che  walk  in  front,  quite 
slow,  with  his  hands  in  the  breast-pockets  of  his  overcoat, 
and  a  sizeable  felt  hat  on,  and  his  head  pretty  well  up,  just 
as  I  have  often  seen  him  on  Broadway.      Mr.  Lincoln  asked 
who   that  was,   or   something   of  the   kind.     I  spoke  up, 
mentioning  the  name,  Walt  Whitman,  and  said  he  was  the 
author  of  LEAVES    OF    GRASS,   etc.      Mr.    Lincoln    didn't 
say  anything,  but  took  a  good  look,  till  Whitman  was  quite 
gone  by.  Then  he  says — ( I  can't  give  you  his  way  of  saying 
lit,  but  it  was  quite  emphatic  and  odd) — 'Well,'  he  says, 
\'be  looks  like  a  MAN.'     He  said  it  pretty  loud,  but  in  a 
sort  of  absent  way,  and  with  the  emphasis  on  the  words  I 
have  underscored.     He  didn't  say  any  more,  but  begun  to 
talk  again  about  the  letter  ;  and  in  a  minute  or  so  we  went 


A  more  definite  statement  of  the  contradictory  position 

of  this  writer,  at  the  present  time,  ,«ccms  demanded  before 
I  close.  By  special  and  limited  circles,  literary,  social,  and 
political,  and  by  individuals  women  as  well  an  men,  here 
and  there  in  the  United  States  and  in  England,  Walt 
Whitman,  it  cannot  be  denied,  i«  read  and  rated,  to-day, 
n->t  only  as  one  of  the  highest  data  of  poets  and  philoso 
phers,  but  as  f'»r  modern  purpose's  perhaps  the  highest  of 
all  poets  and  philosophers,  Nevertheless,  the  bulk  of  the 
public  do  not  accept  him,  and  a  majority  of  "  critics*'  and 
editors  superciliously  deny  him.  The  manuscript  of  Passage 
to  InJiii  was  refused  by  the  monthly  maga/ines  successively 
in  New  York,  Boston,  San  Francisco,  and  London.  At 
large,  a  vague  but  current  notion  pervades  thai  he  is  an  ob 
scene  writer.  By  many  persons,  including  literary  people, 
he  is  reckoned  a  mere  oddity,  or  perhaps  an  affectation,  or 
suspiciously  coarse  and  low.  Up  to  this  hour,  the  pub 
lishers  will  not  publish  him,  nor  "  the  trade,"  in  general, 
veil  him  over  their  counters. 

The  future  will  hardly  reali/c  the  calumnies  and  the 
utter  malignancc  and  obstinacy  directed  against  him,  in  hii 
lifetime,  from  certain  quarters.  As  clerk  in  Washington, 
one  Head  of  Department  summarily  turns  him  out,  (1865,) 
>aying,  when  remonstrated  with  by  the  gentleman  men 
tioned  on  page  94,  "  If  the  President  himself  directed  me 
to  put  the  author  of  LEAVES  OP  GRASS  back  in  his  place,  I 
would  resign  sooner  than  do  it  j" — and  afterward,  (1869,) 
he  is  subjected,  in  another  Department,  to  trains  of  dastardly 
oificial  insolence  by  a  dignitary  of  equal  rank,  from  whom 
he  narrowly  escapes  the  same  fate. 

It  seems  to  me,  among  the  chiefcst  points  of  the  man, 
that  through  all  these  years  of  general  misunderstanding, 
mixed  with  positive  and  negative  insult,  he  steadily  and 
good-naturedly  keeps  on,  works  at  his  Book,  and  finishes 
it,  without  being  depressed  or  discomfited.  [••  Possessing 
singular  personal  magnetism,  and  frequently  beloved  at 
sight/'  says  a  notice  of  him  lately  in  a  journal,  "  yet  Walt 
Whitman's  nonchalance,  and  a  certain  silent  defiance,  both 


in  his  poetry  and  appearance,  have  long  laid  him  open  to 
caricature  and  sarcastic  criticism.  Then  there  have  been 
imputations  of  a  virulent  description,  such  as  ignorance, 
drunkenness,  and  lust,  to  which'  mental  aberration  and 
moral  obliquity  have  been  strenuously  added.  Very  little, 
hov/cvcr,  do  these  charges  trouble  the  subject  of  them. 
*  In  early  yjars,'  said  Mr.  Whitman,  lately  in  conversation. 
4  I  murmured  much  at  the  fate  of  being  misrepresented  and 
misunderstood — at  the  lies  of  enemies,  and  still  more  the 
complacent  fatuity  of  those  I  loved.  But  I  sec  now  that  i: 
is  no  detriment  to  a  hardy  character,  but  is  perhaps  the 
inevitable  price  of  freedom  and  a  vigorous  training  and 
growth  ;  and  that  even  slanders  mean  something  to  every 
real  student  of  himself,  and,  as  it  were,  betray  to  the  com 
mander  of  the  fort  where  his  embankments  arc  opencst  to 
the  enemy,  and  most  need  strengthening  and  the  guard. '*'j 


Not  unaware  that  my  course  in  this  sketch  is  perhaps  ex 
ceptional,  I  am  determined  to  convey  sufficient  clues,  in  the 
spirit  of  the  author  himself,  to  the  homeliest  relations  or 
sources  of  LEAVES  OP  GRASS  as  primarily  the  outgrowth  of 
a  corporeal,  eating  and  drinking  man,  and  even  his  domes- 
tic  habits,  and  personal  form  and  physiognomy. 


From  tbe  Rocbetter  Gaxtttet  N.  T.t  March  7,  1868. 

I  present  Walt  Whitman,  then,  as  a  man  now  well  in  hit 

forty-ninth  year,  tall  and  strongly  built,  with  a  profuse  gray  beard,  which 
at  .1m  sight  gives  him  an  older  appearance  ;  of  slow  movement  and  erect 
figure j  of  manners  always  simple,  full  of  cheer  and  courtesy,  a  moderate 
talker,  and,  contrary  to  the  general  opinion,  altogether  free  from  eccen 
tricity.  The  portraits  ard  photographs  in  existence  fail  in  giving  the 
real  life  expression.  His  serene  gray  eyes,  and  the  copiousness  of  hair, 
moustache,  eyebrows  and  beard,  affording  ample  «!lvery  fringe  to  his  face 
of  faint  scarlet,  make  up  a  large  part  of  its  individuality.  I  have  heard 


physiognomists  say  that  no  face  could  contain  more  alertness,  combined 
with  mure  calmness;  and  he  has  occasionally,  in  repose,  a  look  I  once 
heard  in  a  description  of  him,  as  a  man  "  wandering  out  of  himself,  and 
roaming  silently  over  the  whola  earth.1' 

From  the  ffatliington  Sunday  Chronicle^  May  9,  1869. 

On   Pennsylvania  avenue  or  Seventh  or  Fourteenth  street,  or 

perhaps,  of  a  Sunday,  along  the  surburban  roads  toward  Rock  creek,  or 
across  on  Arlington  Heights,  or  up  the  shores  of  the  Potomac,  you  will 
meet  moving  alung  at  a  firm  but  moderate  pace,  a  robust  figure,  six  feet 
high,  costumed  in  blue  or  gray,  with  drab  hat,  broad  shirt  collar,  gray 
white  beard,  full  and  curly,  race  like  a  red  apple,  blue  eyes,  and  a  look 
of  animal  heakh  more  indicative  of  hunting  or  boating  than  the  depart 
ment  otiice  or  author'*  desk.  Indeed,  the  subject  of  our  item,  in  his  verse, 
his  mannets,  and  even  in  his  philosophy,  evidently  draws  from,  and  has 
reference  tu,  the  influences  of  sea  and  sky,  and  woods  and  prairies,  with 
their  laws,  and  auan  in  his  relations  to  them ;  while  neither  the  conven 
tional  parlor  nor  library  has  cast  its  spells  upon  him. 

Letter  from  ff^aihirgtcn^  November   28,  1870. 

You  ask  for  some  particulars  of  my  friend  Whitman.  You 

know  1  rirst  fell  in  with  him  years  ago  in  the  army;  we  then  lived 
awhile  in  the  same  lent,  and  now  I  occupy  the  adjoining  room  to  his. 
1  can,  therefore,  gratify  your  curiosity.  He  is  a  large  loooking  man. 
While  in  the  market  the  other  day  with  a  party  of  us,  we  were  all 
weighed;  h'u  weight  was  100  pounds.  But  1  will  just  start  with  him 
like  with  the  day.  He  is  fond  of  the  sun,  an.l  at  this  season,  soon  as  it 
is  well  up,  shining  in  his  room,  he  is  out  in  its  beams  for  a  cold-water 
bath,  with  hand  and  tponge,  after  a  brisk  use  of  the  flesh-bruch.  Then 
blithely  singing — his  singing  often  pleasantly  wakes  me — he  proceeds  to 
rinivh  his  toilet,  about  which  he  is  quite  particular.  Then  forth  for  a 
walk  in  the  open  air,  or  perhaps  some  short  exercise  in  the  gymnasium. 
Then  to  breakfast — no  sipping  and  nibbling — he  demolishes  meat,  eggs, 
rolls,  toast,  roast  potatoes,  coffee,  buckwheat  cakes,  at  a  terrible  rate. 
Then  walking  moderately  to  his  desk  in  the  Attorney  General's  oflice — a 
pleasant  desk,  with  large,  south  window  at  his  left,  looking  away  down 
the  Potomac,  and  across  to  Virginia  on  one  side. 

He  is  at  present  in  first-rate  bodily  health.  Of  his  mind  you  must 
judge  from  his  writings,  as  I  have  sent  them  to  you.  He  is  not  what  is 
called  ceremonious  or  polite,  but  I  have  noticed  invariably  kind  and  tol 
erant  with  children,  servants,  laborers,  and  the  illiterate.  He  gives  freely 
to  the  poor,  according  to  his  means.  He  can  be  freezing  in  manner,  and 
knows  how  to  fend  ott  bores,  though  really  the  most  affectionate  of  men. 
For  instance,  I  saw  him,  was  with  him,  the  other  day,  meeting  at  the 
railroad  depot,  after  long  separation,  a  family  group,  to  all  the  members 


of  whom  he  was  attached  through  the  tendereit  former  associations,  and 
tome  he  had  known  from  childhood,  Interchanging  grew  hearty  kuset 
with  each,  the  boyt  and  men  aa  well  at  the  girU  and  women. 

Sometimes  he  and  I  only—  sometimes  a  larger  party  of  ut—  go  otf  on 
ramblei  of  several  miles  out  in  the  country,  or  over  the  hilU  ;  lometimen 
we  go  nightt,  when  the  moon  U  fine.  On  such  occasions  he  contribute* 
his  part  to  t)'-  general  fun.  You  might  hear  hit  voice,  half  in  iport,  de 
claiming  tome  passage  from  a  poem  or  playi  *nd  hit  song  or  laugh  about 
a»  often  a*  any,  sounding  in  the  open  air. 

H*  Itner9  AT.  7*.  Ev**i*g  MJ//,  Ottobtr  17,  1870. 

........  .The  paper*  here  have  all  paragraphed  Walt  Whitman's  return 

to  town  and  to  hit  de.k  in  the  Attorney  General'*  otHce,  after  quite  a 
Jong  vacation.  Hit  figure  U  daily  to  be  teen  here  moving  around  in  the 
open  air,  especially  fine  murnitigi  and  evening*,  observing,  listening  to, 
or  tociably  talking  with  all  torts  of*  people,  policemen,  driven,  market* 
men,  old  women,  the  blackt,  or  dignitaries  \  or,  perhaps,  giving  tome  small 
almt  to  beggars,  the  m-iimnl,  or  organ-grinder*  {  or  i  opping  to  carets  lit* 
tie  children,  of  whom  he  i*  very  fond.  He  takes  drep  interne  in  all  thr 
newt,  foreign  and  domestic.  At  the  comtnerv  rmcnt  of  the  present  war 
in  Europe  he  was  ttrongly  German,  but  is  now  the  ardent  friend  of  the 
French,  and  enthusiastically  supports  them  and  their  Republic.  Here  at 
home  he  goet  for  general  amnesty  and  oblivion  to  seceuionistt  \  he  speaks 
tharply  of  the  tendency  of*  the  Republican  party  to  concentrate  all  power 
(at  he  tayt)  in  Congress,  and  make  its  legislation  absolutely  sovereign,  a» 
against  the  equal  claimt,  in  their  sphere*,  of  the  Presidency,  the  Judiciary,- 
and  the  tingle  States. 

Altogether,  peril  tpi,  "the'gomi,  gray  poet"  it  rightly  located  here. 
Our  wide  spaces,  great  edifices,  the  breadth  of  our  landscape,  the  ample 
vistas,  the  splendor  of  our  skies,  night  and  il.iv,  with  the  national  charac 
ter,  the  memories  of  Washington  and  Lincoln,  and  others  that  might  be 
named,  make  our  city,  above  all  others,  the  one  where  he  fitly  belongs. 

Walt  Whitman  is  now  in  hi*  fifty-second  year,  hearty  and  blaming, 
tall,  with  white  beard  and  long  hair.  The  older  he  gets  the  more  cheer 
ful  and,  gay-  hearted  he  growt. 



202  Main  Library 







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ifiM   A  rattir 




filv.  CIS  JUN  29  '78 

APR  0  P  1993 

TO  2  0  1979  2  g 


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AUG  1  8  1986 

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SEP  2  3  1983 

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NOV  07  ©33 

MIK  NOV  0  6  1990 

FORM  NO.  DD  6,  40m  10'  77      UNIVERSITY  OF  CALIFORNIA,  BERKE